Robot Fingers Use “RoboSkin”—More Sensitive Than Human Skin
BeBop Sensors has released a new reference design dubbed “RoboSkin” to provide a highly sensitive sense of touch to the next generation of advanced robots.
BeBop Sensors recently reported that its new robot-finger design leveraging RoboSkin is now available. RoboSkin is a new smart fabric-based solution for high-sensitivity touch sensing that can mimic, and in some cases outperform that of a human finger.
This announcement comes following the development of numerous touch-based sensing solutions from BeBop Sensors. The company says it strives to create touch-sensing solutions that do not require bulky electronics, and instead may be seamlessly integrated with already existing solutions.
Five RoboSkin sensors with accompanying finger segments to simulate a human hand. Image used courtesy of BeBop Sensors
In this article, we will take a look at BeBop Sensors and their previous reference designs, followed by an in-depth analysis of RoboSkin’s operation and performance. Finally, BeBop Sensors’ overall goal for the RoboSkin reference design, as well as its place in the next generation of robotics will be discussed.
BeBop Sensors: The Fabric of Robotics
BeBop Sensors is among the leaders in the intelligent sensing community, specializing in smart fabric sensors for a variety of applications. In addition to their commercial contributions, BeBop Sensors has produced numerous reference designs for engineers looking to integrate their smart fabrics into their own new or existing products.
Most BeBop products are not a single sensor, but are instead arrays of sensors with signal processing electronics included. The dense arrays used by BeBop Sensors allow for high-resolution sensing of touch-based pressure changes.
BeBop Sensors’ process for developing smart fabric-based sensors. Image used courtesy of BeBop Sensors. (Click on image to enlarge)
BeBop’s smart fabric sensors use a pressure-sensitive piezoresistive material as a base, then an ionic bonding and screen-printing process to generate the final device. The smart fabric may be integrated into numerous everyday items thanks to its flexibility.
BeBop’s Note Touch, for example, offers an easy way of integrating pressure sensing into existing systems. In an athletic setting, BeBop’s Tempo Insole may be used to get real-time data on steps, balance, or any troublesome patterns that may indicate injury.
RoboSkin: Closing the Loop in Robotics
One of BeBop Sensors’ most recent innovations is RoboSkin, an integrated array of densely packed pressure-sensing devices that function similar to human skin. The RoboSkin sensor mimics the distal segment of a finger and consists of 80 sensors with a 2 mm pitch. More information is available in the RoboSkin video.
Each sensor has an 80 dB response rate meaning that a single sensor may measure pressures caused by masses as small as 4 grams and up to 50 kg. To ease the startup time, BeBop Sensors have already developed a web-based evaluation app for the Robo-Finger design.
BeBop Sensors’ Robo-Finger evaluation app, leveraging a pre-recorded sequence to visualize pressure changes on the RoboSkin material. Image used courtesy of BeBop Sensors. (Click image to enlarge)
RoboSkin, hence its name, is designed to be integrated into the next generation of robots that will directly interact with humans. Especially when working alongside humans, it’s important for any robot’s feedback loop to be effectively closed.
RoboSkin, thanks to its extremely sensitive devices, offers a method of feedback that is quite similar to human skin. The broad response rate coupled with the quick detection capabilities of RoboSkin will help to ensure that robots can properly grip without exerting too much or too little pressure.
Toward a Safer, Smarter Robotic Future
With Amazon’s drone-delivery system and Tesla’s Optimus humanoid robot, more and more large-scale organizations are pushing for advanced robotics in our daily lives. If this integration of silicon- and carbon-based lifeforms is to be seamless, then a highly sophisticated feedback network is required to ensure that the safety of both humans and robots is preserved.
RoboSkin represents a promising method of ensuring that the next generation of robots has a sense of touch that rivals our own, making them smarter, more capable, and (hopefully) more sympathetic.