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A Light Touch: Embedded Optical Sensors Could Make Robotic Hands More Dexterous

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The new stretchable optical sensor could be used in a soft robotic skin to detect contact and measure force.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University embedded 14 strain sensors into each of the fingers of a new soft robotic hand.

Credit: Carnegie Mellon News (PA)

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed a three-fingered soft robotic hand with multiple embedded fiber-optic sensors, as well as a new type of stretchable optical sensor.

The researchers used fiber optics to embed 14 strain sensors into each of the fingers in the robotic hand, enabling it to determine where its fingertips are in contact with an object and to detect forces of less than a tenth of a newton.

The researchers think the material could potentially be used in a future soft robotic skin to provide even more feedback. "If you want robots to work autonomously and to react safely to unexpected forces in everyday environments, you need robotic hands that have more sensors than is typical today," says CMU professor Yong-Lae Park.

All of the sensors in each of the fingers of the robotic hand are connected with four fibers, although a single fiber could theoretically accomplish the task. Each of the hand's fingers mimic the skeletal structure of a human finger, with a fingertip, middle node, and base node connected by joints. The hand's "bones" are three-dimensionally printed hard plastic and include eight force-detecting sensors. Each of the three finger sections is covered with a soft silicone rubber skin embedded with six sensors that detect where contact is made.

From Carnegie Mellon News (PA)
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