Clearing buried landmines can be a tedious and dangerous process, but that might not be the case anymore in the (hopefully) not-so-distant future. This is because thanks to researchers at MIT, they have built a robot called the “Digger Finger” that could be used to help safely detect buried objects such as landmines.
How it works is that it comes with a tactile sensor combined with a clear gel with a reflective membrane that bends when it comes into contact with objects. A light from the probe shines through the gel and a computer captures the reflection patterns which is then analyzed to see what kind of object it is and what kind of shape it has.
In the video above, the researchers 3D printed objects of different shapes and the probe was able to successfully identify them. While trying to identify buried items isn’t new, current methods that involve the use of radar aren’t quite as good because it can only provide a hazy view of objects, meaning that trying to tell the difference between rock and bone can be tricky and could waste time digging things up only to find out that it wasn’t worth it.
It might be a while before we see the Digger Finger become an actual device that can be used in the field as the researchers are still working on refining it. According to one of the study’s co-authors, Edward Adelson, “As we get better at artificial touch, we want to be able to use it in situations when you’re surrounded by all kinds of distracting information. We want to be able to distinguish between the stuff that’s important and the stuff that’s not.”