Robots Get More Sensitive Sensors

Electroluminescent thin film may be just the thing for those sensitive robots of the future. Vivek Maheshwari and Ravi Saraf of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln demonstrated how electroluminescent thin films glow in response to pressure. Pressing a penny against the device provides the image shown below. This technology provides tactile sensitivity that is comparable to yours and mine - and it offers other improvements.

(Abe, meet electroluminescent thin film)

The resulting optical image can be digitally photographed and processed quickly. Quick data collection is critical to performing real-time tasks with tactile sensors, like picking up a delicate object or shaking a human hand. It simultaneously provides information about the object itself; if it starts to slip, the robot could compensate without other machine vision assistance.

The film consists of layers of gold and semiconducting nanoparticles that are produced out of solution; the film could be layered onto complex shapes, such as those on robotic appendages or surgical instruments. As Sarif puts it:

"You ultimately have to make a device on a very curved surface, like a cylinder, or an endoscope. Most of the existing technologies are too rigid; they won't bend that far."

This technology will enable science-fictional robots, who easily interact with humans, shaking hands without crushing fingers, picking up eggs without breaking them, and other useful tasks. See also Robots get pressure-sensitive skin for another technology that performs a similar function. Robotics sensor images the sense of touch provides more information on the thin film sensor.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/10/2006)

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