Enhancing Robot Capabilities with the L3 F-TOUCH Sensor
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London, in collaboration with partners from China and the USA, have developed an innovative sensor called the L3 F-TOUCH. This sensor aims to improve the tactile capabilities of robots, enabling them to “feel” objects and adjust their grip accordingly.
Achieving Human-Level Dexterity
One of the key goals in robotics has been to achieve human-like dexterity in manipulation and grasping. To accomplish this, robots need a reliable sense of touch and force. The L3 F-TOUCH sensor, described in a recent study published in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, enhances the force sensing capabilities of classic tactile sensors. This sensor is lightweight, affordable, and wireless, making it a viable option for retrofitting existing robot hands and graspers.
The Importance of Tactile Information
The human hand possesses the ability to sense pressure, temperature, texture, and pain. It can also distinguish between objects based on their shape, size, weight, and other physical properties. However, many current robot hands and graspers lack integrated haptic capabilities, making object handling challenging. Without knowledge of the interaction forces and the object’s shape, robot fingers have no “sense of touch,” leading to objects slipping out of their grip or even getting crushed if fragile.
In this study, Professor Kaspar Althoefer from Queen Mary University of London introduces the L3 F-TOUCH sensor, a high-resolution fingertip sensor. The “L3” in the name stands for Lightweight, Low-cost, and wireLess communication. This sensor can measure an object’s geometry and determine the forces required to interact with it. Unlike other sensors that estimate interaction forces through camera images, the L3 F-TOUCH directly measures these forces, resulting in higher measurement accuracy.
Professor Althoefer explains, “Unlike its competitors that estimate interaction forces indirectly through camera image reconstructions, the L3 F-TOUCH measures forces directly using a mechanical suspension structure with a mirror system. This design achieves greater accuracy and a wider measurement range. Moreover, the sensor is specifically designed to separate force measurements from geometry information, making it more reliable than its counterparts. Additionally, the embedded wireless communication capability of the sensor outperforms competitors in terms of integration with robot hands.”
Understanding How the Sensor Works
When the L3 F-TOUCH sensor comes into contact with a surface, a compact suspension structure allows the elastomer material to deform and measure high-resolution contact geometry exposed to an external force. The elastomer’s displacement is tracked by detecting the movement of an ARTag marker, facilitating the measurement of contact forces along the three major axes (x, y, and z) through a calibration process.
Future work on the L3 F-TOUCH sensor aims to expand its capabilities to measure rotational forces, such as twist, in addition to the three major axes. This advancement would enable robots to have a better sense of touch, making them more effective in handling objects and performing complex manipulation tasks. It could also be beneficial in human-robot interaction settings, such as patient rehabilitation or providing physical support to the elderly.
A Leap towards Advanced Robotics
The development of the L3 F-TOUCH sensor has the potential to revolutionize robotics by enhancing their capabilities and reliability. By providing robots with a sense of touch, this breakthrough innovation enables them to handle objects more effectively and perform complex manipulation tasks with ease.