New research in the field of robotics has uncovered the soft and gentle grip of a robot. Being able to see behind the mask of steel, the scientists have found a milder, more calculated side of the machine, which is more sensible to everything around him.
No, they have not given the robots feelings. That could have potentially catastrophic implications and pose ethical dilemmas as these robots are being designed for use in factories, mainly. Instead, researchers from the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have uncovered a new way in which basic robots that are used in various simple tasks could reorient themselves according to their surroundings.
This could allow these bots to get a grip on the situation – literally. The mechanism is designed mainly for gripper robots, which have up until now been very rigid when it came to adjusting the nature of their grip: form the force they apply, to where exactly on the object they grip.
Scientists have therefore extended a helping hand to these often clumsy robotic arms who may cost some constructers a lot of money, or even patients their lives, as many are used in surgery. The newest robots can do their assigned tasks in far more efficient ways, as they have learned to take notice of their environments.
This allows for better dexterity of the robotic gripper. What it lacks in that it is not an actual human hand, it now has in that it can use what it has around it. Meaning: if the robot hand picks up a pencil from the rubber end instead of the middle, it can release a bit of the pressure in its grip and push the pencil upon the nearest wall. This way the pencil will be correctly gripped.
The arm, as observed in the video accompanying the research, can also rotate the object on the plane from which it picks it up, so as to grip it from the correct part. Essentially, the robot learns what is around him and is programed to know how to use its environment.
Alberto Rodriguez, a mechanical engineering Assistant Professor at the MIT, says that this new and cheap way of enhancing gripper abilities is a way of ensuring extrinsic dexterity of the hand, i.e. it uses the exterior to improve its dexterity. The human hand, as a counterexample, uses intrinsic dexterity.
Rodriguez maintains that this arm could be used by surgical robots, forensic robots, industrial robots, as well as by future NASA robots. The only existing alternative is a human-like robotic hand, which is both difficult to program, as well as expensive, going at about $100,000.
Image source: phys.org