Cornell University Researchers Develop a Robotic Hand that Has a Sense of Touch

Researchers at Cornell University have developed a robotic hand that has a sense of touch and can sense its surroundings internally like humans do.

“Most robots today have sensors on the outside of the body that detect things from the surface. Our sensors are integrated within the body, so they can actually detect forces being transmitted through the thickness of the robot, a lot like we and all organisms do when we feel pain, for example,” Doctoral student Huichan Zhao, lead author of the study “Optoelectronically Innervated Soft Prosthetic Hand via Stretchable Optical Waveguides” told Cornell University News.

The Cornell University research group used optical waveguides for the robotic hand. Since the early 1970s, optical waveguides have been used for various sensing functions, including position, tactile and acoustic. Fabrication of optical waveguides used to be a complicated process, but with the advent of lithography and 3D printing, optical waveguides are easily produced and integrated into soft robotic application.

As a final demonstration to show that the robotic hand has a sense of touch like humans do, the researchers allowed the robotic hand to touch three tomatoes and determine, by softness, which was the ripest. The Cornell University research group’s robotic hand selected the ripest tomato.

Zhao said that robotic hand that feels like humans do has many potentials, not just in the field of prostheses, but also in bio-inspired robots for space exploration use. The Cornell University research group added, “We believe that the easy fabrication, low cost, chemical compatibility, and high repeatability of the developed stretchable waveguide sensors will benefit the field of robotics (e.g., soft robot bodies and skins for hard ones).”