In today’s world, we already have numerous Robots at work in assembly lines all over the world, and those Robots are extremely good at what they do. That is to perform a very specific task over and over, in a controlled environment that receives very little in the way of outside interference.
For the world of robotic manipulation, this inability to adapt immediately to changes happening around them is a major limitation, and is part of the reason we have yet to see robotic house helpers like the ones depicted in sci-fi movies.
“They’re far less capable than organisms in terms of sensory measurements. … It’s the ability to feel, and respond to those feelings, that they’re missing.”
says Rob Shepard, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University.
The Search For A Solution
For engineers, giving robots a sense of touch is a task that requires a lot of very detailed information. The robots need to have a means of detecting not only the precise amount of pressure being applied and the location it’s being applied to, but also need a way of being made aware of angle and what effect the object that is being handled by the robot.
For most, the answer here is simple. Just give the robot a bunch of sensors. That’s exactly what a number of engineering teams from different institutions are hard at work trying to get done. Thus far the most promising results are smart skins laden with sensory equipment.
E-skins, or otherwise known as smart skins have come to the fore as the best possible solution to solving the problem for giving robots a sense of touch. Essentially, these are not much more than a lot of sensory equipment that is attached to a flexible and elastic material, doing much the same work as human skin does.
In more recent developments, a smart skin sensory layer that relies on the very same OLED systems as we find in modern TVs is now able to provide machines a means of measuring soft touch.
This was made possible by the fact that OLED diodes/pixels are fully reversible. So, as opposed to using them to emit light, they are now (in this instance) being used to detect it.
With this innovative way of thinking, researchers at the Queensland university of Technology were able to create a small dome structure that is fitted above a number of OLED diodes in a manner that ensures that light is evenly distributed across the tiny dome. Should the dome come into contact with something, the surface of the dome will be deformed and the distribution of light will change.
Putting together responses from a number of these domes spread across a surface could make it possible to determine how much force is being applied to an area where contact is made. As simple as it is, this marks a major step forward in expanding the possibilities of smart skins in large area applications.