Touch-sensitive robot arm can navigate through a field of clutter

robotarmAs all long-time fans of The Avengers are aware, even an android can cry. But does that mean robots can feel? It may depend on how you define the term, as a new “skin” for a robotic arm, created by a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, certainly fulfills one understanding of the idea. The invention contains hundreds of individual sensors planted all the way up its length to help it navigate without bumping into any obstacles that may appear along its path.

The 384 sensors are placed throughout what Charlie Kemp and colleagues call “flexible electronic skin” that covers an arm developed by Meka Robotics, a company based in San Francisco. Using information collected by the sensors embedded throughout, the arm can navigate through a space using its sense of “touch” to identify its immediate surroundings and calculate the most appropriate course of movement. These calculations are derived by using an algorithm Kemp and his team developed.

While the arm tends to move dependent on the shortest distance possible – or, alternatively, pre-set motions determined by the user – Kemp’s electronic skin and algorithm allow for real-time reactions to obstacles, with the Meka arm’s “springy joints” allowing for smooth and instantaneous reactions.

Kemp and his team are obviously not keeping this creation to themselves. Next month, they’re headed to give a presentation about recent tests – in which a quadriplegic man managed to manipulate the arm using head motions and got the arm to hold a cloth and wipe his face with it – at the International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics in Seattle, Washington. Additionally, the team has also made the software (and information about the sensors themselves) behind their program public to see if others can help improve it.

“We have released our sensors as open hardware with the intention of supporting researchers and hobbyists, although anyone is welcome to use our designs,” Kemp explained on the website of Healthcare Robotics, the organization behind the sensor skin. “We hope that the sensors and accompanying software will make it easier for people to build on our research.” 

That same website explains the goal of the project. “We are attempting to create a new foundation for robot manipulation that encourages contact between the robot’s arm and the world.” Beyond that, the success of the most recent tests suggest that Kemp and team’s work will also manage to create new foundations between those without limbs and the world on a wider sense.

Emerging Tech

Toilet-scrubbing robot takes over one of the world’s crappiest jobs

When it comes to jobs that none of us enjoy, scrubbing the toilet would have to rank pretty highly. So why not hand the job over to robots? Very soon you might be able to do exactly that.
Gaming

The best PS3 games of all time

Choosing the right PlayStation 3 game can be a conundrum, especially when there are nearly 1,500 titles to choose from. Thankfully, we've rounded up the best games to have ever made it to the platform.
Emerging Tech

Believe it or not, this fire-proof exoskeleton isn’t designed for space marines

A company called Levitate Technologies has developed a fire-resistant upper body exoskeleton that’s capable of lowering exertion levels by up to 80 percent when you carry out manual work.
Cars

The DBX SUV will go where no Aston Martin has gone before

When it launches in 2019, the Aston Martin DBX will be the British automaker's first SUV. In the meantime, camouflaged DBX prototypes will undergo strenuous testing around the world.
Emerging Tech

Ancient crater the size of NYC discovered under the Greenland ice sheet

A huge crater has been discovered beneath the ice of Greenland, and is thought to be the result of a meteorite impact millions of years ago. The crater is one of the largest ever discovered, measuring 19 miles across.
Emerging Tech

Here’s how the InSight mission to Mars will confirm its landing to NASA

NASA's InSight mission has sent a lander to Mars. NASA researchers have now shared details on how they will monitor the touching down of the lander at the end of its 91 million mile journey.
Emerging Tech

Would you swap your keycard for a microchip implant? For many, the answer is yes

Put down your keycard! More people are turning to implanted RFID chips as their choice of workplace identification. Should we be worried about a world in which employees get microchipped?
Outdoors

‘Super magnesium’ may be the next wonder material for outdoor gear

Super Magnesium is a wonder material that is 30 percent lighter than aluminum, as strong as carbon fiber, cheaper to make, and 100-percent recyclable, making it much better for the environment.
Emerging Tech

Forget joysticks — the Guts Game is controlled by a sensor that you swallow

Researchers have created an unusual new game in which players swallow a biosensor and then compete to raise or lower the temperature in their gut. Sound crazy? Here's why it could catch on.
Emerging Tech

Step inside the Nepalese restaurant staffed by robot waiters

A robotics startup from Nepal has created a robot waiter called Ginger. It's capable of delivering food from kitchen to table, and can even engage customers in a bit of friendly banter as it does so.
Emerging Tech

Doctors could soon ditch stitches and seal skin wounds with lasers

Just like the dermal regenerator in Star Trek, physicians may soon be able to heal skin wounds using smart, laser-based technology. That's thanks to researchers from Arizona State University.
Emerging Tech

From tornado flushes to remote controls, modern toilets are flush with tech

With the global observance of World Toilet Day on November 19, we take a look at how the modern toilet in our homes and businesses have evolved, and how they are becoming smarter tools in the future.
Emerging Tech

NASA selects the all-important landing site for its Mars 2020 rover mission

NASA said on Monday that the landing site for its much-anticipated Mars 2020 rover mission has the potential to "revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life."
Emerging Tech

NASA’s ‘space wheat’ is helping earthbound farmers grow crops quicker

Could NASA technology for growing plants on other planets help farmers improve crop yield here on Earth? According to researchers in Australia and the U.K., the answer is a resounding yes.