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Flexible Sensors Make Robot Skin 148

Roland Piquepaille writes "In recent years, lots of efforts have been made to give robots the ability to hear and see. But what about the sense of touch? Unlike us, robots don't have sensitive skin. But this is about to change. By using organic, or plastic, field-effect transistors as pressure sensors deposited on a flexible material, researchers at the University of Tokyo have created an artificial skin which will give robots the sense of touch. The prototype has a density of 16 sensors per square centimeter, far from the 1,500 of our fingertips. When this density increases and when the problem of the reliability of this kind of transistors is solved, the researchers say this artificial skin will also be used for car seats or gym carpets. Expect to see them in four or five years. More details and a picture of a robotic hand using organic transistors as pressure sensors."
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Flexible Sensors Make Robot Skin

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  • Fo real (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:12PM (#10324860)
    More real realdoll.

    *big smile*

    Oh yeah
  • by Anonymous Coward

    he just plaigarises other peoples content

    if you add

    to your hosts file, he disappears !
  • Prosthetics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Only Druid ( 587299 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:16PM (#10324887)
    I haven't read the article yet, but my first thought when I read the blurb was whether or not this would have applications for prosthetics?

    One of the most difficult parts of rehabilitation for amputees, even with the most expensive and advanced prosthesis, is that the most sensitivity available nowadays is a highly generalied "touching something/not touching something" or a translation of general amounts of pressure (and thats only on the most advanced: most models have no sensors at all). If we could provide amputees with limbs that felt, albeit in a much reduced fashion, many behaviors that require positive feedback (i.e. to be able to adjust your movements based on what you feel in that limb) could become accesible for the disabled.
    • Re:Prosthetics (Score:2, Interesting)

      by erick99 ( 743982 )
      I think it is very likely. If 16 sensors per sq cm is their first go 'round, you gotta figure it will be close to 100 before too long. Once the density is higher and the size of each sensor correspondingly smaller, the "skin" can be even thinner and can be wrapped more tightly and around things such as "fingers." Well, anyway, it sure sounds like a good idea. I hope it happens.


      • Most of the touch sensivity is provided by hair, not the skin itself. In fact, the skinn doesn't feel anything since it's made of dead cells. What gives us the perception of feeling are the nerves beneath the skin which connect to the small hairs outside. High detailed pressure and directional sensivity (used to feel textures) is provided by hair. The remaining touch feeling is the low detailed pressure one described in this article.

        We have milions of small hairs all over the skin, even on the fingerti
        • by uglyduckling ( 103926 ) on Thursday September 23, 2004 @07:29AM (#10327553) Homepage
          Utter rubbish.

          I'm a med student - I had to respond to this one. There are 6 types of tactile receptors, of which nerve endings attached to hairs are one. Hairs provide basic information about movement - the wind or your clothes moving past your skin etc.

          The tips of your fingers are hairless. That's obvious - look at them under a magnifying glass or microscope if you have one. Fine touch sensation is provided by Tactile Discs and Tactile Corpuscles located in the ("live") skin of the dermis. The skin is not made exclusively of "dead" cells, but of many layers, and the ("dead") epidermis at the surface is quite capable of transmitting movement down to these cells.

          You can check all of this out [] if you want.

          People have hair on their heads mainly for insulation (get a crew cut in the middle of winter if you want to prove this!) although I agree that hair on the head has a limited use in avoiding collisions. I suspect that subjective loss of sensation in the face after shaving is due to the trauma of having run a blade over your skin, and the stinging sensation from the damage to hair follicles.

    • Re:Prosthetics (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Impeesa ( 763920 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:23PM (#10324944)
      It could work, but other technology needs to catch up first. Fairly detailed sensors could be installed in current prosthetics, I'm sure, but the machine-nerve interface just doesn't carry enough data yet. It doesn't matter whether we know what that data means, since the brain can probably learn to interpret it on its own, but we just don't have the fine control over the interface that we would need. In related news, an article in this month's Discover [] (full text viewable to subscribers) discusses a lot of these limitations, although it comes at it from the angle of whether mind-reading (or controlling) computer chips are possible.
      • Re:Prosthetics (Score:3, Interesting)

        Actually, I believe the most successful prosthetics actually just apply the sensation to the skin of the stump itself. For instance, a heat sensor in the hand will activate something that heats up against the stump, imparting the sensation.

        I've read of some that have quite a few pressure sensors in them, that apply some sort of electrical 'tickle' to what's left of the leg... supposedly makes it much easier to walk with them.
        • Re:Prosthetics (Score:2, Informative)

          by Impeesa ( 763920 )
          Exactly - by applying sensations straight to the skin, you're whitewashing a huge number of nerves with the same sensation. With such inefficient input to the nervous system, you'd have pads and stuff all the way up your arm just to transmit the kind of data this skin could generate. It can't be used efficiently until we can more accurately send signals to just a small number of nerves at once.
    • Every one of us. At some point we will have full control over inputs and outputs of our sentience. When we know just what that means, going back will feel like reincarnating as an ant.
  • by Short Circuit ( 52384 ) * <> on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:18PM (#10324903) Homepage Journal
    KITT: "You know, Mike, we need to talk about how you're doing on your diet."
  • by Sialagogue ( 246874 ) <sialagogue&gmail,com> on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:19PM (#10324913)

    "Look at yourself, standing there, cradling the new flesh I've given you. If it means nothing to you, why protect it?"

    "I... I am simply imitating the behavior of humans."

    "You're becoming more human all the time. . .Now you're learning how to lie."

    "My programming was not designed to process these sensations."

    "Then tear the skin from your limb as you would a defective circuit...Go ahead...! We won't stop you! Do it! Don't be tempted by flesh!"

  • by Frac ( 27516 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:20PM (#10324920)
    Make the inflatable dolls play audio clips when certain sensors are touched.

    My parents would be so proud.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:24PM (#10324949)

    he just plaigarises other peoples content and sells it on his blog

    but if you add

    to your hosts file, he and his revenue stream disappears !
  • by koreth ( 409849 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:24PM (#10324950)
    Unlike us, robots don't have sensitive skin.

    So they'll save lots of money on aftershave and electric razors.

    All hail our new cleanshaven robot masters.

    • All hail our new cleanshaven robot masters.

      Personally, I've never really understood male shaving, unless you think you're a woman trapped in a man's body or something.

      A clean chinned man is nearly as much of an oddity as a bearded lady (racial characteristics not withstanding). It's one of our more bizarre fashions (and that's all it is, fashion).

      It makes about as much sense as men wearing prosthetic breasts or padding their hips.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:25PM (#10324956)
    Everybody complaining about Slashdot becoming Piquepaille's personal soapbox for plagiarisim seems to get instantly modded down. Is he a pseudonym for one of the Slashdot editors or something?

    Anyway, what is the robot ability up to now?

    * Has skin
    * Eats flies []
    * Can transform into other robots []
    * Walks on water []

    It sounds like the plans are coming together nicely for overlord robots.
    • It sounds like the plans are coming together nicely for overlord robots.

      I am skeptical this technology will ever actually take off in carpets like the article suggests. Who would want to have their carpet tell them they were a fatass every time they got up to walk around?

      • I am skeptical this technology will ever actually take off in carpets like the article suggests. Who would want to have their carpet tell them they were a fatass every time they got up to walk around?

        Or, worse yet, your carpet informs you that the "hot chic" you slept with last night (who was brought home via 'beer goggles') was much heavier than you (many beers and several shots of peppermint Schnapp's later) had thought...

        Of course this is NOT from personal experience... despite what my so-called "frie
    • I think you are trolling. I wish I had mod points to mod you down. Nice tactic to get your gripe against Roland thru, by adding some links, and getting a +5 Interesting. Way to go moderators.

      It seems that you posted other posts [] as well again Roland Piquepaille, as an AC.

      You have a point that Roland gets more air time here on Slashdot than most.

      But he does not plagiarize any more than any news site who relies on various news sources. He collects the info and provides links to the source with some c

      • by Anonymous Coward
        you think he has permission to repost other peoples content for commercial gain through advertising ? real news sites actually get permission first or *pay writers* for content or do you think AP CNN etc just do it for free ?

        slashdot links to the original articles where possible, they dont copy and paste them here as articles cos if they did they would get their asses sued into oblivion, copyright does apply to writings and photographs especially when exploiting content for commercial gain
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Why do you think I am trolling? It's a genuine question.

        As for the other posts, I didn't make them. If I wanted to post something like that, I would have put it in my original post rather than make separate posts. No doubt you are aware that more than one person can post as AC. I fail to see what's so bad if I was responsible for posting them though.

        You are right in saying that he doesn't plagiarise more than any news site; I used the wrong word mistakenly - plagiarism is when you claim the article to
      • I have been known to make a few anti-Roland posts in the past. When I first started paying attention to Roland's posts, I couldn't understand why many people hated him, either. But, now, I understand why. On one hand, Maybe part of it is overexposure. However, I think more of it has to do with his neverending spam and questionable approach to copyright law.

        If you look here [], you will see the T's & C's for using information from the source of Roland's story. If you read the fine print, you will see

        • After reading another post, I realize that I am guilty of misusing the term plagiarize. Roland does not plagiarize, but he appears to be guilty of some copyright infringement.

        • No insight. No thoughts on where technology is heading. No review of how technology has come this far...

          Aggregation by itself is valuable. Google News is only an aggregation service. With both of them, I learn about stuff I'd probably never stumble across on my own.

          The ads are clearly identifiable as such, you're not being deceived and you don't need to click on them.

          Deeper insight would be nice, esecially from somebody who's got his eye on things. But I'm inclined to cut the guy some slack.

          • Aggregation by itself is valuable. Google News is only an aggregation service. With both of them, I learn about stuff I'd probably never stumble across on my own.

            True. After all, isn't Slashdot an aggretation service? And, I find it to be valuable. However, note that Roland has a tendency to link to his blog. He points you to his blog and from there, you can link to the source. When submitting an ariticle to Slashdot, why doesn't Roland point most, or, better yet, ALL of his links to the source?

            In bo

      • He gets a lot of coverage on Nanodot [] as well. (4 of the front page articles are his.)
      • Sigh! Moronic moderators...

        How is this a troll?

        I noticed what appears as a coordinated attack on Roland, and stood up and defended the guy. Not that I like him (I neither like nor dislike him), but because these attacks seem unwarranted, and all by Anonymous Cowards.

    • It sounds like the plans are coming together nicely for overlord robots.

      Didn't you watch The Matrix? We still have the good ole fashion trusty EMP SHOCKWAVE!

      That'd pawn the asses of our robot overlords good!
  • Not much longer until we have sex-bots

    I wonder if having a harem sex-bots will be considered immoral

    Support Free Trade Campus []
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    • Re:Cool (Score:2, Funny)

      On the bright side, you could use strong sterilization methods; less risk of STDs.
    • by kfg ( 145172 )
      I wonder if having a harem sex-bots will be considered immoral


      That won't, however, prevent them from also being quite popular and common. People will indulge their "base" instincts, even the people who consider it immoral.

      It reminds me of an old Playboy cartoon. It shows a bunch of Puritans going to meeting and all the women (of every age) have large, red As on their backs. One guy is saying to another, "Well, it was a long winter."

      The problem, of course, is that the people who consider it immoral
    • wonder if having a harem sex-bots will be considered immoral

      FSVO "immoral" approaching "expensive as all hell." So you'll have to be a CEO, RIAA/MPAA exec, or Politician to afford one.

      Yep, fsck morality.
  • Complaining Robots (Score:3, Informative)

    by A Boy and His Blob ( 772370 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:25PM (#10324959)
    Oh great, one more thing for Marvin to complain about.

    I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed, and my leg hurts too.
  • Skin is very useful.

    I remember writing a term paper that began this way.

  • by aarku ( 151823 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:27PM (#10324974) Journal
    Mom: Joey! Stop bouncing around in your seat!
    Joey: But Maaa!
    Back Seat: .... Please don't stop...
  • I for one (Score:4, Funny)

    by lonesome phreak ( 142354 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:29PM (#10324989) Journal
    welcome our new golden skinned robotic overlords.

    Seriously, that picture kinda creeps me out.
  • by Anonymous Coward kin.jpg []

    In recent years, lots of efforts have been made to give robots the ability to hear and see. But what about the sense of touch? Unlike us, robots don't have sensitive skin. But this is about to change. By using organic, or plastic, field-effect transistors as pressure sensors deposited on a flexible material, researchers at the University of Tokyo have created an artificial skin which will give robots th []

  • by Anonymous Coward least you can tickle it.

    Try Nuggets [], the mobile search engine. We answer your questions via SMS, across the UK.

  • More details and a picture of a robotic hand using orgasmic transistors as pressure sensors.
  • At SIGGRAPH this year there was a material that could measure force and direction, it was called GelForce [], and it was one of the most amazing things I saw. I was on the E-Tech subcommittee, and it was in our venue; it was so fun to play with, and their demo was great!

    This looks to be a bit more advanced and a lot more expensive (than GelForce), but nonetheless, there are other people who have been creating these materials with the same applications.
  • Good stuff... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Frennzy ( 730093 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @08:45PM (#10325068) Homepage
    As already mentioned, I see great things ahead for prosthetics. If this is a first shot at 16sensors/cm^2, surely it will be easy to make advances in not only materials but simple manufacturing processes that could greatly increase that.

    It looks like the first in a long series of hurdles may just about be cleared.

    There are also numerous industrial/scientific/sporting applications for something like this...imagine having NFL sidelines undercoated with this more debate or bad vision angles....he was in or he was out. Or what about measuring even more precisely the impact at each discreet point on a runners feet? Or the force of a boxer's punch? Or the accuracy of a baseball bat or golf club as it comes into contact with the ball?

    Cool stuff.
  • This Isn't New (Score:2, Interesting)

    Nasa has had a working version of some of this technology since the late ninties i believe, they were using it experimentaly on the new generation of CanadaArms for the ISS. It was being developed so that there would be another way to see if the arm was hitting anything, besieds just looking out the window. If i rember correctly the project was having some problems becuase it was taking a huge amount of power to run the touch sensative surface.

    Haven't hered anything about it in the last 2-3 years, but Yea

  • Why am I not suprised? I think as others have could have many uses. Curious if the density will rise like HDD density was/is rising...
  • The prototype has a density of 16 sensors per square centimeter, far from the 1,500 of our fingertips.

    Most of that is redundant. I'd like to see you sense 1500 independent locations within a sq cm of your fingertips. I bet you'd have difficulty with 16. Where's that number from anyway? I wouldn't be surprised if its wrong anyway. Nerve endings, maybe, but not all of those are for touch, some are for temperature and probably other things.

    Still, some of those extra pressure senstive nerve endings would b
    • Re:yeah, right! (Score:3, Informative)

      by blakestah ( 91866 )
      You can sense the difference between two and one point on your skin when they are separated by a little less than a mm.

      Low threshold mechanoreceptors, of two different types, each have about 1/mm2 density in the fingertip, or about 100/sq cm. These two types are different in temporal sensitivity and dynamic range, but allow sensation of skin deflections from a few microns to a few millimeters - roughly three orders of magnitude range.

      16 will not allow a reasonable assessment of surface texture. It will no
  • by hdd ( 772289 )
    this artificial skin will also be used for car seats

    holyshit, the robot wants to feel my ass...wonder if they can also detect farts...

  • The pressure sensor arrays could be used in pressure carpets that distinguish family members from strangersHmm... this could be very usefull in front of a pet door! Think it can distinguish between a cat and a skunk?
  • from my blog... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by feelyoda ( 622366 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @09:00PM (#10325146) Homepage
    check out my blog, where i post comments interesting stuff related to robotics...

    My post on this topic is here [] and below.

    Flexible sensors make robot skin. [] This could have a number of applications. The first two I imagine are a richer interface between machines and humans and advanced manipulation.

    If cheap enough, the machine can understand the precise location and posture of a human. Mentioned in the article are car seats. Imagine a bed which adjusted itself to minimize pressure points.

    I should mention a project []out of CMU by Chris Atkeson and Daniel Wilson [], where he put only a few cheap accelerometers in the floorboard of a house. The algorithm processing these sensors could localize humans in the rooms with remarkable accuracy. The challenge then becomes sensor fusion and system integration, in using this information to boost performance of the entire system. For instance, a human tracker using vision alone would be dwarfed by such a system which had a reasonable seed guess from pressure sensors.

    The second application is for rich manipulation. A robot grasping a glass must do so with enough pressure to not drop it, but also enough sensitivity to not break it. I doubt humans use significant higher reasoning in this process, unlike the advantage humans have over computer vision programs. Rather, robots could sense the weight fairly easily, but also the type of surface, and learn how brittle such a surface is.
    • Actually, I'm reminded of the Suit-interface from the Book 'Starship Troopers'. It was described as a large sensor-suit that felt the pressures exereted by your human body, which then fed into the computer of the suit and produced a negative feedback---trying to relieve pressure on the sensor... and that was the mechanism for lifting your own leg and causing the suit to lift and amplify the force several times...

      Woo-Hoo!! One more step towards my robo-suit!

      Just a random snippet of memory from a cool book
  • by spoco2 ( 322835 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @09:02PM (#10325157)
    "this artificial skin will also be used for car seats or gym carpets"

    Car Seat: You seem to have put on a bit of weight mam.
    Driver: I have not, how dare you.
    Car Seat: And, if I feel correctly you... yup, oh yeah, over there, feel that... you've got some cellulite on your thighs too.
    Driver: My god! I never!
    Car Seat: I feel you are now tensing your buttocks madam...
  • by zytheran ( 100908 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @09:04PM (#10325172)
    I started a Masters degree on this issue in the 1980's and it's sad to see the same *wrong* approach to touch still being applied if the end use is a robotic hand/finger. At the time MIT was doing work on this, as were a few other places, all with the wrong approach. Here's the problem:
    It's not the sensors or the density or how long they last or their accuracy or anything like that, even though these are real problems. The big killer problem is wiring. You get all these signals and at some point you need to get the wiring over joints that have to bend a real lot. And the more sensors you have the wires your typically going to have. Eventually you end up with bundles of wires and the simple fact is bundles of wires do not like being bent repeatedly, apart from which fingers need to be skinny to be useful and this is at odds with fat bundles of wires.

    One solution however is physically simple and was presented at a National robotics conference in Australia in 1990. In summary I proposed and had made a working 2D slice of finger that used only 4 sensors. A 3D finger tip would require about 9 sensors, and by finger tip I mean measuring the major contact, magnitude and direction anywhere beyond the joint. The method was based on normal engineering and had the 4 sensors buried into a compliant skin. An external force caused a reading on all 4 strain gauges. From this small amount of data a PC worked out the magnitude, position and direction of the applied force using data collected from earlier testing. As a 2D finger slice it could successfully follow an edge when attached to a robot arm. I can scan and email the paper (this was pre net days) if any researchers want to extend this work and come up with practical robotic fingers. Email me.
    Another solution is to put the smarts into the skin so only a "summary" signal needs to go back through the various joints. This couldn't be done in the 80's but could be now?
    • Why can't one use miniature wireless transmitters/receivers instead of wires in this case?
      • You could these days. Size needs to be no more than about a 5mm cube. But you still have to get power, which at least is only 2 wires. But bear in mind you need a minimum of 5 per hand if just measuring finger tips, or 14 if measuring total finger touch. Per hand. But at least polling update would only need to be about every 10 mili-seconds so bandwidth would not be a issue. The smallest wireless transmitters I have seen used are about 15x10x3 mm though.
        And using a matrix skin without local processing is st
    • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @11:11PM (#10325866) Homepage
      The problem is not that you can't do it. It's that the market is so dinky that tooling up to do it isn't worth it.

      It should be feasible to make integrated silicon strain gauge/amplifier/interface chips, embed them in a flexible printed circuit, and laminate them into a skin-like laminate with appropriate tough, soft, and hard layers. But the processes involved are all high-volume ones - it's hard to do this economically in small volume. And there's no market for a process that turns out big rolls of this stuff.

      There's a lot of stuff in robotics that's like that. Linear motors and laser scanners both cost about 20x what they should. because the volume is tiny. Even basic servomotos and servo amps cost 5x as much as they should, based on parts cost.

      It's getting better, though. More and more parts needed in robotics are becoming off the shelf. I run a DARPA Grand Challenge team [], and over the last year, many of the components you need for that have become far more available.

  • by real gumby ( 11516 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @09:15PM (#10325247)
    This is the same class of technology that Danny Hillis invented 25 years ago at the MIT AI Lab. At that time it wasn't organic transistors (just the plain 'ol inorganic kind) of course!

    I can't find any specific references to it on the web, only some in passing. If I remember he used pantyhose to separate two conductive layers...
  • ..that hand kinda looks like c3p0
  • by LS ( 57954 )
    That robotic hand [] looks a lot like C3P0!

  • Meaning every one of us. At some point--the singularity--we will have control over the inputs and outputs of our sentience. No more suffering. No need to itch or pee.

    I can only imagine it like having sight and hearing for the first time, but far greater than that.

  • by msimm ( 580077 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @11:04PM (#10325828) Homepage
    much Star Trek. At best you mean tactile feedback. Touch is something you might require, say.. sentience to appreciate and we aren't there quite yet.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Robot: Why?! Why was I made to feel pain?!
  • Why should robots have all the fun? How about clothing sensitive as skin, but maskable. Not just work gloves, but sandals, too - hell, a motorcycle suit that switches off when the accelerometer rises to impact levels.
  • The closest we have to a robot is the Honda robot - which still cannot handle many basic functions. AI has gradually increased, but nothing spectacular. Why has there not been more progress?
  • by digital photo ( 635872 ) on Wednesday September 22, 2004 @11:51PM (#10326115) Homepage Journal

    After decades of research, there is now the technology to defeat those wall clinging, ceiling hiding, floor light-footing ninjas!(and web slingers, kung fu masters, ballerinas, etc).

    Just apply the new "feel it" intelligent surface film to every surface inside and outside of your home!

    Know instantly by pattern recognition and fuzzy logic, when your loved one is cheating on you and know exactly on what table, floor, wall, or patio! You will know the exact time(s) and how many times your loved one has gotton the good vibration from your neighbor, your cook, your best friend... all this data can then be converted to full motion, surround sound video footage for personal review, use in court, and on a variety of daytime talk shows. (Video footage generation available when using "Feel It" intelligent films with "See It" intelligent films. Please consult your local informational technology contractor for proper installation procedures!)

    Know when that den of roaches comes out for their nightly snack attack on your pet's food and your early morning english muffins!

    Know when expensive vat grown ninjas are clamboring into your home to assasinate you for pissing off the wrong multi-national artificial intelligence!

    All this can be yours if you are willing to apply the new "feel it" intelligent surface sheets to each and every possible surface in your home.

    Coming Soon!

    "Know It" intelligent pleasure film for when you want to know who's faking it! Designed to carefully measure pressure, moisture, and hormones, this new wave technological material not only protects you from STD's, but also from fake orgasms, recurring genital warts, another lover's fluids, etc.... (note: use of "Know It" intelligent pleasure film may not be legal to use in all states. Please consult your local laws before purchase and/or use!)

  • So what now, they can fsck each other, and uhh, oh, sensitive hands and stuff, even themselves.

    So what's the next step ? :D I probably shouldn't suggest anything :D

  • If you made a "sexbot" running linux (fine, fine, any OS), you could have it start playing cheesy porn mp3s on cue!

"The Avis WIZARD decides if you get to drive a car. Your head won't touch the pillow of a Sheraton unless their computer says it's okay." -- Arthur Miller