Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering were able to develop a tactile robot that can reportedly outperform humans in identifying a wide range of natural materials according to their textures. The said robot is equipped with a type of tactile sensor that is built to mimic the human fingertip. The BioTac sensor, a soft and flexible skin covering a liquid filling, reportedly has the capability to identify where forces are applied to the fingertip and even the thermal properties of an object being touched.


Essentially, the BioTac sensor’s skin is equipped with fingerprints on its surface that vibrates each time the robot slides on a textured surface. A hydrophone inside the robot’s bone-like core is used to detect the vibrations. The researchers said that while the human finger uses similar vibrations to identify textures, their tactile robot finger, on the other hand, is even more sensitive.

“The specialized robot was trained on 117 common materials gathered from fabric, stationery and hardware stores.  When confronted with one material at random, the robot could correctly identify the material 95% of the time, after intelligently selecting and making an average of five exploratory movements,” the researchers said. Researchers are hoping that the robot will soon pave the way for advancements in prostheses – the technology that deals with devices used to replace missing limbs and body parts.

Image: Gizmag

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