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Robots with the Sense of Touch: A Possibility Within the Near Future [VIDEO]

Update Date: Apr 29, 2013 11:23 AM EDT
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Robots are designed to perform tasks that humans need help with, which can range from research into another planet, like the Mars Rover, or simply picking up dirt from kitchen floors. Despite science fiction movies that have humanized robots, it is safe it say that robots are far from becoming human. But, according to researchers, robots might be one step closer to being humanized to a certain extent as roboticists aim to give these machines the sense of touch. According to this particular group of roboticists from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology located in Atlanta, they have created a robot arm that can find particular objects based on the sense of touch. This arm, like human arms, can distinguish between different objects when the settings, such as darkness, prevent the sense of sight from helping.

In their latest experiment, the group of roboticists stated that their newly manufactured robot arm could reach into a pocket full of miscellaneous objects and pick out the desired object. Generally, the robot arm could ideally find objects in a clutter space for people who can no longer do so for themselves. The tech team believes that if this new technique can be perfected, robots might be able to help with tasks related to patient or elderly care and even rescue missions.

"These environments tend to have clutter," said Charles C. Kemp, the director of the Healthcare Robotics Lab at Georgia Tech. Kemp used to be a student of Rodney Brooks, a well-known roboticist. "In a home, you can have lots of objects on a shelf, and the robot can't see beyond that first row of objects." By incorporating the sense of touch, robots' range would expand, making them more useful in human related environments.

The robot arm is able to detect objects based on computer software devised from the Willow Garage Robot Operating System (ROS). It has artificial skin that allows for the arm to communicate with the software regarding the items it comes into contact with. The tech team also used algorithms that allowed the arm to mimic certain human behaviors, such as bending, compressing, and sliding objects. The robot arm also can pivot into different direction to get items that might be a bit harder to retrieve. The robot arm was designed by Meka Robotics, which is a company in San Francisco, CA that manufactures different robot components.

The study was published in the International Journal of Robotics Research.

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