A team of scientists from the Cornell University’ Advanced Robotic Center has developed a gentle-handed robot that can pick up fragile objects without harming them and feel their textures. Scientists believe that the robotic arm could one day be used to fashion sophisticated prosthesis for people who have lost their limbs.
Huichan Zhao, a doctoral student and the leader of the project declared that the gentle-handed robot could indeed be considered a game-changer. Should the project be successful, we will be looking at the future of robotics, the scientist added.
Why is this gentle-handed robot considered a scientific breakthrough? As Zhao explained, robots are able to ‘feel’ objects if they’re either made of metal or if they’re capable of conducting electricity. However, all the robots produced so far have quite a tight grip, which makes them useless in cases of handling fragile materials or objects.
But Cornell University robot can change all that. Zhao declared that instead of outfitting the robotic hand with sensor tuned to pick up metallic objects that conduct electricity, the hand uses the principles of optics in order to feel the world.
The hand is composed of dozens of tubes which have waveguides. These waveguides are capable of picking out slight changes in how the light travels through the tubes each time the robotic hand moves.
The robotic hand is outfitted with sensors on the outside as well as the inside. These sensors will ‘tell’ the robotic hand what it touches and how tightly or softly it must grip the object.
To test out the gentle-handed robot, the scientists instructed it to pick up several fragile objects. From a series of three tomatoes, the robot had to pick up the ripe tomato and set it on the side. Normally, for humans, this is an easy task since we are able to tell by the fruit’s texture if it’s ripe or untimely, but it’s quite a challenge for robots who are not able to feel as we do.
However, the gentle-handed robot managed to pick the ripe tomato without flinching. Zhao said that the results are more than encouraging. But there are still some issues which need to be addressed before the robotic hand reaches the market.
The lead researcher said that the hand requires a high amount of power to function and that it also lacks a human brain interface.
Image source: Cornell University