Touch-sensing robots could soon help people do laundry and other household chores

Touch-sensing robots could soon help people do laundry and other household chores

Pittsburgh – Robots may soon be able to help people do laundry and other household tasks, as new technology has given them a sense of touch.

The system, called ReSkin, enables robots to distinguish between objects – such as thin layers of fabric – using only the sense of touch, something that is second nature to humans. However, for the robots, tasks such as holding glass or folding towels are “extremely challenging” so far, according to a team at Carnegie Mellon University.

The amount of data collected by touch is difficult to quantify, and the sensation in robots was difficult to simulate until recently.

David Heald, associate professor in the College of Computer Science and chair of the department of robotics realization and doing (R-Pad) lab, says in a University release. “A lot of the sense of touch that humans do is natural to us. We don’t think much about it, so we don’t realize how important it is.”

To fold clothes, robots need a sensor to imitate them The way human fingers can feel The top layer of a towel or T-shirt and grab the layers underneath. Researchers can teach the robot to feel and grip the top layer of the fabric, but without the robot feeling the other layers it won’t be able to grip or fold the cloth.

“How can we solve this problem?” Hold asks. “Okay, maybe what we need is tactile sensing. “

New research from the Institute for Robotics could help robots sense layers of fabric, which could one day allow robots to help people with household tasks such as folding clothes. (credit: Carnegie Mellon University)

The team developed an open source touch-sensitive skin made of thin leather, Flexible polymer embedded with magnetic particles that gives a 3-axis tactile sensation. ReSkin helps the robot feel for layers of fabric rather than just perceiving them through vision.

“By reading changes in magnetic fields from depressions or skin movement, we can achieve tactile sensing,” explains Thomas Wing, PhD. A student at the R-Pad Lab, who worked on the project with RI postdoc Daniel Seita and graduate student Sashank Tirumala. “We can use this touch sensing to determine how many layers of fabric we’ve captured by applying pressure to the sensor.”

Other research has used tactile sensing to grip hard objects, but the fabric is deformable—meaning it shifts when touched and thus becomes difficult to maneuver. Adjusting the robot’s grip on the fabric changes its shape and sensor readings.

The researchers say they did not teach the robot how or where to hold the cloth. Instead, they taught her how many layers of fabric she was holding in by estimating how many layers of fabric she was holding using the ReSkin sensors and adjusting the grip to try again. Then they watched the robot pick up one or two layers of fabric using different textures and colors.

“The profile of this sensor is very small, and we were able to do this very precise job, getting it between the layers of fabric, which we can’t do with other sensors, especially optical sensors,” Wing says. “We were able to use it to do tasks that weren’t achievable before.”

The robots’ enhanced versatility is due to the ReSkin’s thinness and flexibility, explain the researchers, who stress that more research is needed before the robots are ready for it. Dealing with a real laundry basket.

“It’s really an exploration of what we can do with this new sensor,” Wing concludes. We are exploring How do you make robots feel? With this magnetic skin for soft things, explore simple strategies for handling the clothes we’ll need so the robots can finally wash our clothes. “

Advance team Their findings At the 2022 International Conference on Robotics and Intelligent Systems.

Southwest News Service writer Danny Halpin contributed to this report.

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