Gentle Bot: A Robot With Human Touch

First Posted: Dec 13, 2016 02:55 AM EST

There is one thing humans are unique compared to robots -- they can feel different textures and shapes through human touch. Now, a team of robotic researchers developed a robot, "Gentle Bot," that can actually sense different objects it comes into contact with.

In a recently published study in the journal Science Robotics, a team of scientists at Cornell University unveiled the latest invention -- a soft robot hand that is able to not only touch fragile and delicate objects but also sense the shape and texture of the things it touches.

"Our human hand is not functioning using motors to drive each of the joints; our human hand is soft with a lot of sensors ... on the surface and inside the hand," Huichan Zhao, lead author of the study, told NPR"Soft robotics provides a chance to make a soft hand that is more close to a human hand," he added.

In the past, for robotic hands to be able to sense what it is touching, it needs to be made of a material that could easily conduct electricity.

The stretchy optical waveguides containing LEDs are designed and built right into the pneumatic fingers, making them able to "sense" the surroundings. The changes sensed by the device are measured by a light detector or photodiode and internal optical cords are like nerves.

In Gentle Bot, its sensors are integrated into the body. Thus, the sensors can detect forces being transmitted through the thickness of the robot. Another perk of the robotic hands is that it relies on light signals rather than electricity. So, it could be made with cheaper materials, which could lead to the development of a cheaper prosthetic hand that gives the person wearing it a sense of touch, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Another challenge the team is facing, however, is how to link the robot hand to the human brain so it could be operated naturally. Gentle Bot cannot be linked to the brain yet and the senses it could feel is directed to a computer, which does the interpretation. The team is now looking for companies or persons to collaborate with so they could improve the hand through human trials.

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