Engineers at the Technical University of Munich in Germany have developed a system that allows them to semi automate the production of tactile sensors. Such sensors can provide robotic systems, such as robotic prostheses, with a sense of compression and tension with regard to the objects and surfaces they come in contact with. Most robotic systems have integrated sensors, but this design allows researchers to create sensors for a variety of arbitrary surfaces, and then just wrap them around the object they wish to imbue with a sense of touch. The system includes software that assists with designing the sensors, and the design can be realied using a 3D printer. The technology involves printing a conductive black paste into the silicone sensors, which changes its electrical resistance in response to stretching or compression.
It appears that researchers are getting better at creating technologies that can mimic various aspects of our bodies and physiology. This is set to uniquely benefit amputees, who can expect a host of advanced robotic prostheses around the corner. Moreover, allowing robotic limbs to have a sense of touch can drastically improve their functionality and usability, with a user receiving feedback on how the objects they are touching feel, allowing them to handle things with greater dexterity and being able to perform more complex tasks. Other medical technologies that could benefit include medical robots involved in surgery or rehabilitation.
These researchers have created a system that will make it easier to create an ‘E-Skin’ that can simply be applied to any surface by wrapping or otherwise affixing it, avoiding the need to integrate complex electronics directly into a device. The system also makes it easier to create sensors for unusually shaped devices. “We use software to build the structure for the sensory systems,” said Diego Hidalgo, a researcher involved in the study. “We then send this information to a 3D printer where our soft sensors are made.”
The system involves a 3D printer depositing a black conductive paste in specific arrangements in uncured silicone. Once the structure has cured it can be affixed to a surface, and will provide feedback on compression or tension as the surface interacts with its environment.
“The integration of these soft, skin-like sensors in 3D objects opens up new paths for advanced haptic sensing in artificial intelligence,” said Sami Haddadin, another researcher involved in the project. “This work has the potential to bring about a general revolution in industries such as robotics, prosthetics and the human/machine interaction by making it possible to create wireless and customizable sensor technology for arbitrary objects and machines.”
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The study was presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA)