BioTac Robot's Finger More Sensitive Than Yours

The BioTac robotic finger created by USC roboticists is so sensitive it can identify materials by touch - and do it better than you!


(Amazing robotic touch sensitivity)

The robotic finger's design mimics a real human pinky. So it's got a soft, flexible skin with a fingerprint-like surface, which is wrapped over a liquid filling.

As the finger slides over a textured surface, the skin vibrates. These telltale shudders are detected by a hydrophone inside the core of the finger, and software then matches those vibrations to materials it has on file.

The robot was trained on 117 common materials, sourced from fabric, stationery and hardware shops. That includes textures like paper, wood and sponge.

When confronted with random materials, the robot would make a number of intelligently-selected exploratory movements (like rubs, wiggles and pokes) before identifying the material. It got the answer right 95 percent of the time.

This development in real-life robotics reminds me of the fictional synthetic flesh used on robots like teddy from Brian Aldiss' 1969 novel Super-Toys Last All Summer Long:

"There have been mechanicals on the market with mini-computers for brains - plastic things without life, super-toys - but we have at last found a way to link computer circuitry with synthetic flesh..."

"Our serving-man will be, in many senses, a product of the computer. Without computers, we could never have worked through the sophisticated biochemics that go into synthetic flesh."

Update 23-Jun-2015: Sensitive robot fingers were predicted by science fiction writers in 1931. Read this excerpt from The Exile of Time by the great Ray Cummings:

We had gone no more than a hundred feet or so when Migul [the robot] slowed our pace, and began to walk stooped over, with one of its abnormally long arms held close to the ground. The fingers were stiffly outstretched and barely skimmed the floor surface of the tunnel. As we passed through a spot of light I saw that Migul had extended from each of the fingertips an inch-long filament of wire, like finger nails.

The Robot murmured abruptly, "Tugh's vibrations are here. I can feel them. He has passed this way recently..."

"He passed here an hour or two ago, perhaps. The vibrations are fading out. But it was Tugh. Well do I know him. Put your hand down. Feel the vibrations?"

"I cannot. My fingers are not that sensitive, Migul."

A faint contempt was in the Robot's tone. "I forgot that you are a man." Then it straightened, and the extended filaments slid back into its fingers.
(Read about the sensitive robot fingers)

End update.

Via Wired UK.

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