Cheaply Giving Robots a Sense of Touch
Bad things can happen when something does not know its own strength, whether it be a cartoon dog or a real robot. This is why sensors have been created so robots can feel what they are touching and be gentle with it, if needed. The catch is that some of these sensors can be prohibitively expensive, which is why researchers at Harvard University have designed a new sensor named TakkTile that should be much cheaper to produce.
If you have ever learned about weather, there is a good chance you have been introduced to a barometer before. These useful tools are the singular purpose of measuring air pressure, in an attempt to predict the weather as different weather systems are prefaced by changes in air pressure. Obviously measuring air pressure will not help a robot feel something, which is why the researchers added a piece of vacuum-sealed rubber over the barometers on the TakkTile chip. This rubber allows the pressure of touch to be measured by the barometers and protects them from as much as 25 pounds of pressure, which is enough to survive a hammer or baseball bat strike.
As the design of TakkTile uses common components, such as the tiny barometers found in cellphones, the cost to manufacture them is quite low, even though the process requires access to a vacuum chamber. The researchers are now looking to license the technology to companies interested in producing the sensors for sale or directly incorporating them into devices.
Source: Harvard University