While humans get to enjoy Bauhütte’s Hand Massager for gamers, the world of soft robots still has a long way to go before they can accurately grip things with the right force. Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) partnered with the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) to develop a system that lets soft robots grasp tools and apply the appropriate amount of force for a given task, whether it be squeegeeing liquid or writing out a word with a pen.
Called Series Elastic End Effectors (SEED) this system consists of soft bubble robotic grippers with embedded cameras to map how they deform over a six-dimensional space to apply the correct force to a tool. Using six degrees of freedom, this object can then be moved left / right, up or down, back / forth, roll, pitch, and yaw. The closed-loop controller utilizes SEED, along with visuotactile feedback, to adjust the position of the robot arm in order to apply the desired force.
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Nobody will be surprised that compliance can help with tools, or that force sensing is a good idea; the question here is where on the robot the compliance should go and how soft it should be. Here we explore regulating a quite-soft six degree-of-freedom stiffness directly at the hand/tool interface, and show that there are some nice advantages to do that,” said Russ Tedrake, paper co-author and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT.