New York, Dec 13 (IANS) In a move aimed at doing away with the rigid touch most robots are associated with, researchers have devised a way for a soft robot to feel its surroundings internally, in much the same way humans do.
A robot with a human-like touch can have several applications. In tests, the researchers found that their robot could differentiate between ripe tomatoes from the unripe ones.
"Most robots today have sensors on the outside of the body that detect things from the surface," said lead author Huichan Zhao from Cornell University in New York.
"Our sensors are integrated within the body, so they can actually detect forces being transmitted through the thickness of the robot, a lot like we and all organisms do when we feel pain, for example," Zhao noted.
In a paper published in the journal Science Robotics, the researchers described how stretchable optical waveguides act as curvature, elongation and force sensors in a soft robotic hand.
The group used its optoelectronic prosthesis to perform a variety of tasks, including grasping and probing for both shape and texture.
Most notably, the hand was able to scan three tomatoes and determine, by softness, which was the ripest.