The BioTac fingertips on this robot hand form the University of Southern California can identify textures better than people can and could revolutionize prosthetics.
Credits: FILE PHOTO
The robot hand, designed and built at the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering, comes equipped with a new type of tactile sensor called BioTac, which mimics the human fingertip.
Like real fingertips, the BioTac sensor has a soft, flexible skin-like substance over a liquid filling. Also like real hands, it has fingerprints.
"As the finger slides over a textured surface, the skin vibrates in characteristic ways. These vibrations are detected by a hydrophone inside the bone-like core of the finger. The human finger uses similar vibrations to identify textures, but the BioTac is even more sensitive," reads a university press release.
But in some ways, researchers found the bot is better than the skin you're in. In tests, it outperformed humans in distinguishing natural materials by identifying textures.
The researchers say it could be used for all sorts of things, including product testing. But it would be most beneficial to the design of prosthetic limbs.
"If you have ever had your fingers so numb from the cold that you couldn't feel things, you're hands are almost useless, even though your muscles are perfectly functional. If you can't feel what you're touching, it slips, you can't identify things. It's as if your hands are paralyzed," said Dr. Gerald Loeb, a professor of biomedical engineering.
"And so by adding tactile sensing to prosthetic hands we can overcome that problem and start to have prosthetic hands that really do have some functionality."