Robots are mainstays in predictable environments like factories and manufacturing plants. But if you want a robot to help grandma out of a chair, it needs to have a soft touch that can adjust to the human form.
One way of making a more adabptable robot hand is to use a technology called pre-touch, an approach developed by Josh Smith, senior researcher at Intel. Mechanical fingers with pre-touch sensors can detect an object, about an inch away, and adjust accordingly. (For a more in-depth story about pre-touch that I wrote last September, click here.)
Now Smith has added additional pressure sensors to the fingers so they can "feel" when an object is slipping and when it is secure. Once the object is positioned well, using pre-touch, the mechanical fingers close around it, squeezing only hard enough to keep the object from falling. Below is a video, taken at a recent Intel Research event, of the gentle grabber in action.