Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Robot Fingertips

PostedMarch 7, 2013

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Anchor Lede: Engineers say a new artificial fingertip allows robots to sense textures even better than you can.

Randy Atkins: The robotic finger, called BioTac, mimics a human’s…with a bone-like core that’s bathed in blood-like salt water encased in a silicone skin that even has fingerprints. It turns out…

Gerald Loeb: …They’re not just there for the FBI.

Randy Atkins: Gerald Loeb, a bioengineering professor at the University of Southern California, says, when rubbed on a surface, the robotic fingerprints create vibrations which can be detected in the core along with things like temperature. Unlike human fingers, though, the robotic skin itself has no sensors.

Gerald Loeb: We have to put all of our sensors in the core to get them out of harm’s way and make the skin replaceable when it wears out.

Randy Atkins: Loeb says the real key is a computer algorithm that interprets all those signals and directs any follow-up touching. He says we shouldn’t be surprised that it distinguishes textures better than people do.

Gerald Loeb: When you engineer a machine, you can make one thing optimal.

Randy Atkins: With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.

Anchor Tag:A start-up called Syntouch is producing the sensors.