Photo credit: MIT
Digging for gold just became a lot easier, thanks to MIT researchers who have designed a sharp-tipped robot finger equipped with tactile sensing to identify buried objects. Called the Digger Finger, this robotic arm was able to scavenge through granular media, like sand, and correctly sense the shapes of submerged items it encountered. A future iteration of this robot may be able to perform subterranean duties, such as finding buried cables.
To make this robot a reality, they used a GelSight sensor consisting of a clear gel covered with a reflective membrane sporting LED lights and a camera. Since granular media has a tendency to jam the arm when multiple particles become locked in place, the team added vibration to the Digger Finger as well as testing various twisting motions.
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So, the idea is to make a finger that has a good sense of touch and can distinguish between the various things it’s feeling. That would be helpful if you’re trying to find and disable buried bombs, for example. Making that idea a reality meant clearing a number of hurdles,” said Harvard University PhD student Edward Adelson.