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Giving Robots a (better Than) Human Touch

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Armed with the GelSight sensor, a robot can grasp a freely hanging USB cable and plug it into a USB port.

Researchers recently demonstrated a robot's ability to graph an unattached USB cable and insert it into a USB port.

Credit: Melanie Gonick/MIT

In order to further automate assembly lines, hospitals, and data centers, researchers need to develop machines that can perform certain actions as well as humans, such as manipulating objects. To meet this need, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Northeastern University have demonstrated a robot that can grasp an unattached USB cable and insert it into a USB port.

The device's tactile sensor uses optics instead of pressure sensitivity to guide the connector into the port. The GelSight sensor has a layer of transparent synthetic rubber on one side, which conforms to the object it is pressed against; light that bounces off the magnetic paint that covers the layer is gauged to identify shape and the amount of pressure being applied to an object.

"The GelSight sensor...has high resolution in sensing," says Northeastern professor Robert Platt. "It detects a lot of detail in the surface texture of the things that it is touching."

The researchers note the sensor is about 100-times more sensitive than a human finger.

Algorithms developed by MIT professor Edward Adelson are fast enough to give the robot feedback in real time, enabling it to make adjustments for a successful insertion. Platt says the technology also is comparatively inexpensive, lending itself to commercialization.

From Government Computer News
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