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Soft Robotic Fingers Recognize Objects By Feel

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The three-fingered robot hand grasps a tennis ball.

A three-fingered robot hand developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory can life and handle delicate items.

Credit: Jason Dorfman/Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

Daniela Rus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has led the development of bendable, stretchable robot fingers that can lift and handle delicate objects.

The silicone rubber digits do not need specific commands for grasping various objects, but instead expand to accommodate an item and grasp radially.

The three fingers in the robotic hand each have special "bend sensors," which estimate the size and shape of the object with sufficient accuracy to identify it from a list. The sensors feed the robot data on the location and curvature of the grasped object so the system can pick up an unfamiliar object and compare it to already extant clusters of data points from past items.

The robot is currently able to obtain three data points from a single grasp, enabling its algorithms to distinguish between similarly-sized objects. The robotic hand also can hold an object by the tips of its fingers or envelop it completely.

The CSAIL researchers say further sensor innovation should eventually enable the system to differentiate between dozens of various objects.

Rus' Distributed Robotics Lab is developing a second-generation four-fingered hand that incorporates both resistance and force sensors so they can change their value based on the latter's compaction.

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