Friday, May 20, 2005

Flexible tactile sensors

Flexible tactile sensors could help robots work better
James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A robot’s sensitivity to touch could be vastly improved by an array of polymer-based tactile sensors that has been combined with a robust signal-processing algorithm to classify surface textures. The work, performed by a team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is an essential step in the development of robots that can identify and manipulate objects in unstructured environments.

“We are developing artificial tactile sensors that will imitate the functionality and efficiency found in biological structures such as human fingers,” said Chang Liu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. “We have shown that simple, low-cost sensor arrays can be used to analyze and identify surface textures.”

The research team consisted of Liu and Jones (who also are researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology), and graduate students Jonathan Engel and Sung-Hoon Kim. They describe the construction and operation of their tactile sensory array in the May issue of the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, published by the Institute of Physics (

The sensors are fabricated from an inexpensive polymer sheet using photolithographic patterning techniques. In the reported work, the researchers created a 4 x 4 array (16 sensors) and evaluated its performance.

See also High-Tech Skin

Flexible tactile sensors could help robots work better


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