Tactile sensors are currently being designed to sense interactions with human hands or pen-like interfaces. They are generally embedded in screens, keyboards, mousepads, and pushbuttons. However, they are not well fitted to sense interactions with all kinds of objects.
A novel sensor was originally designed to investigate robotics manipulation where not only the contact with an object needs to be detected, but also where the object needs to be held and manipulated. This tactile sensor has been designed with features that allow it to sense a large variety of objects in human environments.
The sensor is capable of detecting forces coming from any direction. As a result, this sensor delivers a force vector with three components. In contrast to most of the tactile sensors that are flat, this one sticks out from the surface so that it is likely to come in contact with objects. The sensor conforms to the object with which it interacts. This augments the contact’s surface, consequently reducing the stress applied to the object. This feature makes the sensor ideal for grabbing objects and other applications that require compliance with objects. The operational range of the sensor allows it to operate well with objects found in peoples’ daily life. The fabrication of this sensor is simple and inexpensive because of its compact mechanical configuration and reduced electronics. These features are convenient for mass production of individual sensors as well as dense arrays.
The biologically inspired tactile sensor is sensitive to both normal and lateral forces, providing better feedback to the host robot about the object to be grabbed. It has a high sensitivity, enabling its use in manipulation fingers, which typically have low mechanical impedance in order to be very compliant. The construction of the sensor is simple, using inexpensive technologies like silicon rubber molding and standard stock electronics.
This work was done by Eduardo R. Torres- Jara of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for Johnson Space Center. For further information, contact the JSC Innovation Partnerships Office at (281) 483-3809.
Refer to MSC-24271-1, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.