Tactile sensor could enable low-cost robot hands

A novel tactile sensor based on a tiny barometer could be used to create a new-generation of inexpensive touch-enabled robot hands.

Developed by a team at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) in the US, the TakkTile sensor has been developed to put what would normally be a high-end technology within the grasp of commercial inventors, teachers, and robotics enthusiasts.

‘Despite decades of research, tactile sensing hasn’t moved into general use because it’s been expensive and fragile,’ said SEAS student Leif Jentoft in a statement.

‘It normally costs about $16,000 to put tactile sensing on a research robot hand. That’s really limited where people can use it. The traditional technology also uses very specialized construction techniques, which can slow down your work.’

Apparently sensitive enough to detect even the slightest touch, the sensor is based on a tiny barometer of the kind widely used in cell phones and GPS units to sense altitude. This is protected by a layer of vacuum-sealed rubber.

As well finding potential use in robotic hands, the Harvard team said that the sensor could be used in a range of other electronic devices. It now plans to license the technology to companies interested in offering prefabricated sensors or in integrating TakkTile sensing into products such as robots, consumer devices, and industrial products.