Robot Tactile Sensing

The people involved number in research and development of tactile and haptic sensing and the number of reported works has increased particularly in the last couple of years, but the use of tactile sensors is still extremely low and fails to show momentum. Why? We think that basically there is no real market- oriented driving force boosting the tactile sensing domain: industrial automation aims efficiency at low cost. This generally means usage of well established reliable and as simple as possible technologies.

Robots with tactile sensing are not at that stage and some applications that could profit from them are implemented by forcing a structured environment and using simpler sensing devices like proximity sensors; other domains like medicine, particularly surgery, and service robotics have not been able to play that role until now. We must add two other considerations: tactile and particularly haptic sensing is quite demanding not only in terms of hardware but also of software.

The extraction of information from tactile sensors may require the implementation of complicated algorithms; the hardware and software available, even at an experimental level, are still not adequate for some already defined needs. The future vision in what tactile sensing is concerned is optimistic but only moderately. Assuming that the industry will not change very much its production style in the near future, we think that it will be up to scientists and engineers to go on developing new sensors suitable for other domains of applications.

We believe and expect that the technology will be able to overcome some of the current limitations of tactile sensing such as taxel dimension (resolution) and arrangement (array organized sensors suffer from crosstalk, i.e. several taxels can be excited by a very localized force), and integration of all components required to output tactile sensation (sensors, conditioning circuits, processing units, etc.). Nanotechnologies Nano-sciences and will probably provide answers to these problems but no one can assure if the solutions will have a major impact on tactile sensor usage.

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