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Brainy, Yes, but Far From Handy


The master manipulator of a DaVinci surgical robot.

Computer scientists and roboticists are trying to close the gap between humans and robots in the use of the senses, especially that of touch.

Credit: Akiko Nabeshima

Robots already can outperform humans in areas such as strength and precision, but humans still are ahead of robots in the use of the senses, especially that of touch. Humans have sophisticated sense organs that enable them to sense pressure, sheer forces, temperature, and vibrations. Recent research found that dynamic human touch can distinguish ridges on the molecular scale.

Roboticists and computer scientists are trying to close the gap with the study of haptics and kinematics.

Mako Surgical, which makes surgical robots, is working to integrate haptics into its robots to allow surgeons more tactical and precise feedback while they carry out delicate surgeries.

HDT Global is working to develop robots that combine acoustic sensors, sensors in joints, and software to better sense and respond to human contact, with the goal of creating "compliant robots" that will be able to sense and behave safely around humans.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology recently demonstrated a method of fabricating taxels, bundles of transistors they hope to use in the design of touch-sensitive applications. Such applications could include synthetic skin, like that developed by researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Other researchers are exploring algorithms that tie together the input from various robotic senses and enable robots to act on them.

From The New York Times
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Abstracts Copyright © 2014 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


 

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