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

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a three-fingered robot hand that’s extremely sensitive to touch and pressure thanks to built-in optical sensors. At the same time, they also fashioned a new type of stretchable optical sensor to accompany such devices.

By using fiber optics, the researchers were able to embed 14 strain sensors into each of the fingers in the robotic hand, giving it the ability to determine where its fingertips are in contact and to detect forces of less than a tenth of a newton.

“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,” said Yong-Lae Park, assistant professor of robotics.

Industrial robots, working in a controlled environment where people don’t venture, are capable of extremely precise manipulation with only limited sensors. But as roboticists at CMU and elsewhere work to develop soft robots that can interact routinely and safely with humans, increased attention to tactile and force sensing is essential, Park said.

Read more from Carnegie Mellon University News, September 28, 2015