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Fingertip Sensor Gives Robot ­nprecedented Dexterity

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Armed with the GelSight sensor, a robot can grasp a freely hanging USB cable and plug it into a USB port.

Researchers have developed a robot that can grasp a USB cable and insert it into a USB port.

Credit: Melanie Gonick/MIT

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University have developed a robot equipped with tactile sensors that enable it to grasp a USB cable draped over a hook and insert it into a USB port.

The researchers note the sensor can fit on the robot's gripper and the processing algorithm is fast enough to give the robot real-time feedback.

"People have been trying to do this for a long time, and they haven't succeeded because the sensors they're using aren't accurate enough and don't have enough information to localize the pose of the object that they're holding," says Northeastern professor Robert Platt.

The sensor consists of transparent, synthetic rubber coated on one side with a metallic paint. The rubber conforms to any object it is pressed against, and the paint evens out the light-reflective properties of various materials, enabling precise optical measurements.

The researchers also developed algorithms that can infer the three-dimensional structure of ridges or depressions of the surface against which the sensor is pressed.

"Having a fast optical sensor to do this kind of touch sensing is a novel idea, and I think the way that they're doing it with such low-cost components--using just basically colored [light-emitting diodes] and a standard camera--is quite interesting," says University of Pennsylvania professor Daniel Lee.

From MIT News
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Kat Dornian

This is such an innovative technology, so outside the box. I hope to see its speed improve while not losing the accuracy and efficiency.

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