Thanks to classic movies, many people view robots as clunky, lumbering galoots, knocking over lab racks and breaking through walls. While this image contrasts entirely with today's violin playing robots, still robots aren't typically known for their delicate sense of touch.
However, some researchers from the Technical University Munich (TUM) might be changing that stereotype. In their attempt to create a more sensitive robot, the team has produced small hexagonal plates that, when joined together, form a responsive robot skin.
The artificial skin is composed of small, rigid hexagonal circuit boards. Each circuit board has four infrared sensors that detect anything that comes closer than a centimeter, effectively stimulating light touch. Therefore, the robot can detect when it runs into things and either retreat from the object or direct its eyes to better examine the object.
As well, TUM researchers have embedded the plates with six temperatures sensors and an accelerometer. Researchers say these add self-perception to the robot by allowing it to register individual limb movement.
“We try to pack many different sensory modalities into the smallest of spaces,” explained developer, Philip Mittendorfer, in a TUM press release. “In addition, it is easy to expand the circuit boards to later include other sensors, for example, pressure.”
Arranged in a honeycomb-like structure, the plates are worn by the robot. The signals from the sensors are centrally process, though each sensor also serves as a data nucleus for other sensory elements, ensuring that signals can be be rerouted in connections fail.
"We will close the skin and generate a prototype which is completely enclosed with these sensors and can interact anew with its environment," said Mittendorfer's supervisor, Gordon Cheng, in the press release.