Researchers Make Scientific Breakthrough Enabling Robots To Have a Sense of Touch and Feel Fabric

In Education

Soon robots could assist in doing laundry and other household chores with the latest tech giving a sense of touch. For example, a system called RedSkin allows robots to differentiate various objects like thin cloth layers through a sense of touch. 

Breakthrough about robots’’ ability to feel 

A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University claim that up to now, tasks for robots like folding towels or picking up a glass have been quite tough. It is challenging to measure the quantity of information obtained by touch, and until recently, robots had difficulty simulating the sense.

Assistant professor in the School of Computer Science and Robots Perceiving and Doing Lab head David Held said People gaze at something, grasp it, and then use touch in positioning themselves properly to grab it. So tactile perception is something that most people do naturally. 

Robots could use a sensor similar to how human fingers feel the upper surface of a towel or garment and grab the layers below it in order to fold clothes. For example, scientists can train a robot to touch and hold the upper surface of a fabric, yet without the ability to sense the other levels, the robot would be unable to grasp or fold the fabric.

ReSkin allows robots to  feel layers of cloth 

The group created an open-source, three-axis touch-sensing skin out of a thin, flexible polymer packed with magnetic nanoparticles. ReSkin enables the robot to feel layers of clothing rather than see them.

Post-doctoral student in the R-Pad Lab Thomas Wen said they could achieve touch sense by interpreting the variations in magnetic fields caused by skin movements or depressions. Then, by pinching the sensors, one can utilize this tactile sense to count the number of layers of fabric they’ve taken up.

The researchers did not instruct the robot on where or how to hold the fabric. Rather, they used the ReSkin detectors to estimate the number of layers of fabric it was gripping before changing the grip and trying again to teach it the number of layers there were.

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