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Robotic Sense of Touch 56

Posted by Zonk
from the practical-applications-in-porn-industry-left-unspoken dept.
Aryabhata writes "As per a BBC article, US scientists have created a device that could one day pave the way for robotic hands mimicking human touch. The research team from University of Nebraska in Lincoln hopes to apply this to aid surgery by allowing surgeons to feel the tissue they are operating on. This could help surgeons in distinguishing cancerous or abnormal tissue etc. To demonstrate the device the scientists tried the instrument on a one cent coin and the sensor revealed the wrinkles in President Lincoln's clothing and the letters TY in liberty."
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Robotic Sense of Touch

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 11, 2006 @04:47PM (#15513732)
    one step closer to our desired sex slavebots!
    • by MarkusQ (450076) on Sunday June 11, 2006 @05:34PM (#15513848) Journal

      Since this appears to be the official joke thread for the article, I'll throw in my two cents:


      the sensor revealed the wrinkles in President Lincoln's clothing and the letters TY in liberty.

      I'm glad they've got a device that can still detect some of our liberty. I was starting to get worried.

      --MarkusQ

    • Nah, I'm quite content with having a robot that can detect wrinkles in Lincoln's clothing. And one that can identify the letters T and Y. This is perfect!
  • why doesn't he remove the chip that makes me feel PAIN?

    • Re:no means no (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ZeroExistenZ (721849) on Sunday June 11, 2006 @05:40PM (#15513870)
      why doesn't he remove the chip that makes me feel PAIN?

      Because "pain" protects you from yourself damaging your body [wikipedia.org]

      If you can't feel there's something wrong and abnormal with your body (broken leg, biting on tongue, finger stuck in a blender, ...) you wont act to protect it. Not damaging yourself wouldn't be a "reflex" anymore, but a contious process with not always the highest priority. Like an Interrupt request versus an API-call.

      • heh, I was just quoting from Drawn Together :-p but does draw all sorts of moral issues over the creation of AI's that "self preserve" through similar mechanisms as we do - what feelings shouldn't we try to recreate?

        • Does draw all sorts of moral issues over the creation of AI's that "self preserve" through similar mechanisms as we do

          I agree. Creating a robotic clone of a human isn't really what should be attempted as humans' nature is quite competitive and dominating.

          AI with a sense of "self" and with an ego could give quite disturbing scenario's.

  • The team says the tactile sensor could, in the future, aid minimally invasive surgical techniques by giving surgeons a "touch-sensation".
    This doesn't sound to me like surgeons looking at a display of light emissions. Is there some kind of method in place that would transfer the sense of touch from the machine to the surgeon(s)?
    • by Zelet (515452) on Sunday June 11, 2006 @06:39PM (#15514050) Journal
      I have a friend working on this tech and they are getting close. Its a really hard thing to do because for large scale force feed back the mechanics are too big and complex to be easily mass produced. Then with the small scale (textures, etc) its hard interface the controls with the human hand and transmit such small changes in surface quickly enough to be useful.
      • Google "400-pin tactile array"

        This array was in work in the lab I in which I did my PhD, and has more recently become viable. It can mimic, to the best extent possible, spatial inputs to the skin, in a fairly incredible virtual reality kind of way, and is a great research tool. But it is a HUGE device made to provide good control over a single fingertip of skin.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This is more of a remote control application of sensors. It lets you feel through the robotic hands.

    In other words, it won't do anything for a sexbot, but the implications for the phone sex industry are profound!
    • In other words, it won't do anything for a sexbot, but the implications for the phone sex industry are profound!

      I thought it couldn't get any worse than when my dreamworld came crashing down when I got busted jerking off as a teenager, now someone has to go & ruin phone sex for me too...
    • Nah, this has uses in allowing software to detect fine changes in pressure, allowing certain systems to be more sensitive and flexible in their operation. For example, attached to an appropiate image recognition package, the robot will be able to maintain the right force and pressure and so on. I.e. it lets sexbots distinguish ahhhhs from arrrrghs.
  • by RsG (809189) on Sunday June 11, 2006 @05:18PM (#15513806)
    I get why this would be useful for telesurgery. But does anyone else thing this would be damn useful for robots more generally?

    AI is the single largest problem with making robots that act autonomously, but there are other issues as well, and sensory data is one of them. Humans, and other animals, depend on a variety of senses to interact with our environment - ranging from sonar to sight to smell (depending on species). An individual is severly limited with one of their senses lost/reduced.

    We could build a robot with sight easily - camera technology is getting better and better. Ditto sound recording, and even interpretation (voice recognition for example has come a long way). Gyroscopes can be used to give a sense of balance. It wouldn't be that difficult to add sonar or radar to that list, and smell we can probably skip for most applications. But touch is too useful not to have. For any device that moves independantly, being able to feel where it's putting its various body parts is potentially vital.

    How important is our sense of touch? Hands are useless without feedback as to where we're putting them. Imagine the advantages for a robot that can feel different surfaces (and determine what they're made of, how sturdy they are, etc). I suspect a fair number of problems with pathfinding could be solved by giving the robot instructions as to what surfaces will and won't support it's weight. Telling a vehicle sized robot to stick to the asphalt would be helpful, especially when you consider the alternatives. It'd be nice to be able to tell a bot meant for cleaning not to throw away money, or to differentiate between recycleable materials and regular garbage, or to avoid scrubbing the carpet with tile cleaner...

    Of course I'm probably getting ahead of the technology here - this sort of application won't exist for a long time yet. But hey, a geek can dream.
    • about picking up an egg, before it's too late?

      this isn't all that useful for 'sturdy' checking.. only experience can teach you that.

      a better method for surface detection under a gripping apendage would be a small rubber disk (fingertip) on the other side of which is a prism-- with a small amount of oil inbetween.. bounce a light off the disk and a camera on the other side.. perfect surface detection.
      • Touch could tell you that the egg is ovoid, has a certain texture, and a specific weight range. Comparing that to stored information about various objects could tell you that the object you're holding is an egg, rather than, say, a golf ball. This is essentially what human memory already accomplishes.

        All you need to do is either A) Give the robot learning capability and let it make mistakes (which is hard, but leads to more versatile behaviour), or B) Code for every object it is likely to come in contact
      • We use touch to determine when we are putting enough pressure on an egg to pick it up. Why wouldn't it work for a robot?
      • We typically use mechanoreceptor feedback from our fingertips to determine when an object in our hands begins to slip. We increase grip force until the slip stops with a reasonable margin of safety.

        With such feedback picking up an egg safely is easy. Without it picking up the egg is nearly impossible. Experiments have been done in which the skin but not the proprioceptors are anesthetized. Even simple manual tasks become very difficult.

        We can live without vision or hearing, but we cannot live without touch.
    • How do you push something without punching it, how do you grip something firmly without breaking it, how do you line up a screw with a screw hole?

      This has been one of the aching needs of robotics for as long as I can remember. Crude force modulation sort of works for the first two, but is hopeless for the last.
  • by Ethan Allison (904983) * <slashdot@neonstream.us> on Sunday June 11, 2006 @05:36PM (#15513853) Homepage
    What about prosthetics that could actually feel? If I lost an arm or a leg or something, I'd pay top dollar not to lose my sense of touch.
    • by RsG (809189)
      You'd also need the techology to tie the prosthetic limb into your nervous system. That might actually be the harder part.

      OTOH, if you could tie into your peripheral nervous system, you'd have a prosthetic that not only had a sense of touch, but that could be controlled like a limb as well. The parts of your brain are already there to move it, so as long as you were born with the limb in question, you could probably train a prosthetic easily enough.
      • Some current, advanced prosthetics convey a limited sense of hot and cold to the wearer by electrically stimulating different patches of skin. The wearers are generally able to adapt to the input in a useful way. Increasingly direct interfaces to the nervous system seem to be only a crazy doctor or two away.

        I'm not sure you would even need to be born with the limb, those experiments with the monkeys where they controlled electronic arms with thought worked out ok. I guess they did establish control over the
        • [quote]I'm not sure you would even need to be born with the limb, those experiments with the monkeys where they controlled electronic arms with thought worked out ok. I guess they did establish control over the arms by initially tying the movement of the mechanical arm to the movement of the monkeys actual arm, so who knows. Perhaps the lower communication barrier with a human would make it possible to establish control simply through visual feedback. You can't exactly explain to Bobo that he should try to
          • I was aiming for the fact that you could more easily get a human to imagine the arm moving than you can a monkey. For the monkey, you have to tie the movement to the monkey's real arm to get things working; for a properly motivated human, who knows...
    • by Meltir (891449)
      As i understand it - thats a bigger challenge.
      TFA speaks only about touch->image conversion, and i doubt they have anything that can actually mimic any given texture under the surgeons hand.
      The prosthetics we have now (if you have the cash) are able to react to nerves to some extent - forcing your arm to move, or grab an object.
      But i think that making a interface that actually lets you feel what the computer is telling you is a different story.
      And im talking tens of years of development.
      We are getting in
    • Seriously, now we can make robo-arms like Luke Skywalker had.
  • One cent coin? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by IlliniECE (970260)
    One cent coin? Isn't it easier to just say "a penny"?
    • One cent coin? Isn't it easier to just say "a penny"?

      They're equal in my mind.
      They contain the same number of syllables.
      I'm sure a linguist could provide a more accurate comparison, but that's close enough for me.
    • "One cent coin" on the other hand is not ambiguous because England does not have the cent as a unit of currency. I'd also point out that it is not obvious to all readers that just because you call a one pence coin a penny that a one cent coin is also called a penny. A one yen coin isn't called a penny, a ten pence coin isn't called a dime, etc etc.
  • Cool... (Score:2, Funny)

    by owlnation (858981)
    sure, surgery and cancer and stuff...but what about the blackjack and hookers?
  • by Chabil Ha' (875116) on Sunday June 11, 2006 @05:49PM (#15513907)
    "the wrinkles in President Lincoln's clothing"

    It's too bad the mint couldn't have ironed his clothes before casting him in metal...
  • Could I get my XBox to give me a happy ending? Force feedback with a light touch...
  • "US scientists have created a sensor that can "feel" the texture of objects to the same degree of sensitivity as a human fingertip."

    Why do they limit it to the sensitivity of a human fingertip ?
    • it's actually a great leap forward to have that much sensitivity.
    • Actually humans need to move their skin to scan a surface to be able to "read" it, this skin can read the surface without scanning/rubbing over it. So in a sense it already has surpassed an index finger.
      • Actually humans need to move their skin to scan a surface to be able to "read" it, this skin can read the surface without scanning/rubbing over it. So in a sense it already has surpassed an index finger.

        Actually humans can scan a surface statically, there is just more information available if a scan is used.

        Your index finger can detect spatial form on a surface with a 2 mm range. You can detect surface asperities as small as a 4-5 microns in scanned touch, and detect vibrations of 1-2 microns at 250 Hz.

        This
  • Is this device included in Lego Mindstorms?
    I want to send a package to a good old friend of mine.

    Regards,

    Hannibal
  • Applications (Score:3, Interesting)

    by D H NG (779318) on Sunday June 11, 2006 @07:45PM (#15514251)
    This might have some use to amputees. I heard a while ago that they were developing prosthetics with a sense of touch, but all they could do was distinguish between hot and cold.
  • Having touch linked with robotics isn't that new. A while ago I heard about a scientist here in the UK who had a microchip implanted in his arm. This chip was able to communicate with a robotic arm. He was able to move the robotic arm just be moving his own. The robotic arm also had touch sensors. When they switched the communications the other way and got somebody to touch the robotic hand the scientist reported strange sensations in the fingers - as if it were actually happening to his real arm. This tech
  • This is such an important development in medical field. The usage of augmented reality for surgery and the reseach in virtual reality for application in surgery have been going on for past few years, and the advancement in tactile part of the surgery (so far it's more of visual development, and the tactile technology of the system is not matured). The advancement would make the remote and collaborative approach to surgery even more feasible and better.
  • This is what Data (from Star Trek) never had.

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein

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