Advanced robotics sounded like a sci-fi enterprise a mere decade ago, and now we're living in a time where engineers create things we thought we'd never see. While some of this falls under robots demonstrating amazing physical prowess in rough terrain, developments are underway to do more complex things.
One of these is in teaching a robot how to feel. We don't mean in feeling emotions (even though that's definitely still being developed), but instead feeling physical textures.
For companies needing to understand the tangible qualities of their products before hitting the market, robotics in this department are extremely valuable. It all hinges on haptic sensors, a technology not new, yet still in constant development.
Haptics have become important in computer applications. So what's available now, as well as on the horizon? The technology behind this truly is monumental in making robots further mimic what human beings do.
Robots Feeling Texture
For clothing manufacturers, analyzing texture is always essential before these products go to the consumer market. If your own company makes promises on how something feels, it can harm your reputation when not living up to expectations.
Robotics in this area are already starting to develop quickly. Two years ago, a robotics company called SynTouch developed a robot arm that could feel textures and go beyond standard testing procedures.
Using a haptic sensor, SynTouch got one subtle thing right in feeling textures: Emanating heat to mimic the feel of human touch.
SynTouch's BioTac sensor goes further by exerting slight pressure like a human being would. It's part of an expansion for this company in providing similar tactile features, including in prosthetic limbs.
Yet, it's far from the only tech company using haptic sensors.
A Look at Tactile Robotic Hands
Late this last year, scientists at Cornell University invented a new robotic hand that can sense shape and texture in very accurate ways. This invention was a huge breakthrough in haptic technology, and it received a name called "Gentle Bot."
It's part of newer tech called soft robotics, as in creating a robot resembling something closer to a human hand.
Using LED's built into pneumatic fingers, it's able to give more sensitivity to its surroundings. A light detector and internal optical cords add to the abilities to detect nuances in textures.
Despite this potentially revolutionizing prosthetic hand manufacturing, the only roadblock is being able to connect it to the brain. Once this occurs, haptic sensations could go to a level imperceptible from what humans take for granted.
Using Haptic Sensations in Virtual Reality
Going beyond what haptic sensors typically do, it's worth looking at how fast it's developing in virtual reality use. Most recently, a company called Tactical Haptics created a reactive grip controller that better mimics friction between objects during VR game play.
With this technology, you get a good example of how haptic technology evolves through direct human usage. Virtual reality gaming companies appreciate this, as do the players, to bring a more acute sense of realism during play situations.
However, it's something capable of reaching into real reality as well while being worn by humans.
Haptic Gloves for Long-Distance Relationships
Within the last couple of months, we've seen a haptic glove called the Flex-N-Feel going to market as a way to connect couples living apart. Designed for use on social media, it's a glove designed to give a realistic sense of touch between two people.
Some other similar technologies are out there as well, from the gentle to ones slightly more prurient. With the above glove, though, it allows long-distance couples to hold hands or receive massages in a virtual and digital way.
We'll keep an eye on these developments in coming months and years here at DaVinci Coders.
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