New technology gives robots the sense of touch
Military use of unmanned, autonomous or robotic devices is only increasing as technology advances and allows people to get out of harm’s way while the machines do the work, and one company has announced technology that will give robots another advantage: the sense of touch.
BeBop Sensors – which makes smart fabrics and haptic gloves – has developed RoboSkin, a flexible sensor-laden fabric that mimics human touch when applied to a robotic fingertip.
“We have a fingertip sensor density that has better spatial resolution than human fingertips, and also has a greater force response range,” said Keith McMillen, Founder and President of BeBop Sensors. .
Each fingertip has 80 sensors capable of measuring pressure from 5 grams to 50 kilograms. The technology essentially creates a nervous system and allows robots to operate with greater dexterity and autonomy, according to a promotional video.
“If we expect robots to work with us, they have to come through our doors and use our tools, and sensing their surroundings the way people do is critical,” McMillen added.
RoboSkin, which is less than 1mm thick, starts with a polyester or nylon non-woven fabric, which is then treated to make the outside of each fiber conductive. “And then when tissue is disturbed — either by pressure, shear, bending — its electrical characteristics change because these fibers have a different relationship to each other,” McMillen added. “And then we take the signals out of the fiber. Then we can process it and produce very detailed and accurate data.
This data allows robots to adapt to changing conditions and modulate the way they move or grasp objects. And this data can also be transmitted to a human through haptic gloves.
“So it allows someone working in robotics … to feel objects, to feel their shape, to feel their weight, to know if they connect,” McMillen said.
While the skin could be applied to robots performing tasks ranging from healthcare to manufacturing, there are many potential military applications. For example, robots are commonly used for explosive ordnance disposal.
“Most robotic tools just like a gripper that opens and closes, and it doesn’t provide any feedback,” McMillen said. “So if you have a pair of data gloves that have haptics…you can be remote and you can have a manipulator and an end effector on a robot that matches your movements, senses what it’s touching, and returns those data at your fingertips.”
BeBop already produces such data gloves, which are used by the Air Force. BeBop was awarded a small business innovation research contract a few years ago directly to the Air Force Phase II to provide gloves that work with virtual reality goggles for remote training .
“So they didn’t have to get all the planes or jets into a classroom-like situation where they were grounded while someone sat there and learned about it,” McMillen said. . “They were learning it virtually using our data gloves.”
McMillen said he plans to potentially build millions of RoboSkin devices.
“We’re also looking at this project where we’re like tailors, like on Savile Row,” he added. “People will have different hands and fingers for their applications, and we can adapt the robot skin relatively quickly to fit different shapes of robotic fingers, hands, or feet.”
Topics: Robotics and autonomous systems