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Finger Sensors For Robot Hands

Tactile, camera-based touch sensors that are long, curved and shaped exquisitely like a human finger.


(A robotic hand that incorporates three, finger-shaped GelSight Svelte sensors)

“Because our new sensor is human finger-shaped, we can use it to do different types of grasps for different tasks, instead of using pinch grasps for everything. There’s only so much you can do with a parallel jaw gripper. Our sensor really opens up some new possibilities on different manipulation tasks we could do with robots,” says Alan (Jialiang) Zhao, a mechanical engineering graduate student and lead author of a paper on GelSight Svelte...

“Optical-tactile finger sensors allow robots to use inexpensive cameras to collect high-resolution images of surface contact, and by observing the deformation of a flexible surface the robot estimates the contact shape and forces applied. This work represents an advancement on the GelSight finger design, with improvements in full-finger coverage and the ability to approximate bending deflection torques using image differences and machine learning,” says Monroe Kennedy III, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, who was not involved with this research. “Improving a robot’s sense of touch to approach human ability is a necessity and perhaps the catalyst problem for developing robots capable of working on complex, dexterous tasks.”

Scientifiction great Ray Cummings describes super-sensitive robot fingers in his 1931 story The Exile of Time:

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 Exile of Time' by Ray Cummings)

Migul's fingers with the extended filaments were feeling it. What strange sensitivity! What an amazing development of science was manifested in every move and act and word of this Robot! Yet, in my own Time-world of 1935, it was all crudely presaged: this now before me was merely the culmination.
(Read more about sensitive robot fingers)

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