Soft robotic components, powered by liquid flowing in and out of them, have numerous advantages over rigid and motor activated devices. Benefits for prosthetics include their lightness, a more natural feel, and structural simplicity. One limitation, though, has been the difficulty of integrating sensitive sensors into soft and stretchable fingers of robotic hands that would be used to relay the tactile nature of what’s being touched.
Engineers at Cornell University have now reported on a novel robotic hand built of soft components that is sensitive enough to distinguish between ripe and green tomatoes.
They used optical waveguides, integrated into the stretchable material making up the robot’s fingers, as the sensing mechanism. Optical waveguides, such as fiber optic cables, essentially transmit light within themselves from one point to another. Bending and stretching the waveguide material through which the light passes changes various parameters of the light itself. These changes can be measured and correlated back to figure out the shape of the material itself, resulting in a very sensitive flexibility sensor.
Here’s the soft Cornell robotic hand figuring out which tomato is ripe using only its sense of touch:
Via: Cornell University…