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Research & Technology

An infrared balloon gives robots fingertip feeling

The best developments for man-machine interfaces focus on both sides, the user and his needs as well as the technology and its possibilities.

03 Mar. 2018
Roland Ackermann
HMI-ID02-064ra_UniSaarland
An infrared balloon gives robots fingertip feeling (Chart: HCI Group, Saarland University)

The most recent example of this is the new DeformWear sensor developed at the Saarland Informatics Campus. Under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Jürgen Steimle the Cluster of Excellence Multimodal Computing and Interaction , a cooperation of the University of Saarland, the Max Planck Institute, and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, developed a tiny switch that works differently than common input devices. The sensor, which is only 10 mm in size, is deformable like a balloon. It can be moved in all directions; it can be pushed in and out, and additionally can be moved to the right, left, up and down. From the inside, an infrared LED illuminates the changeable membrane. The light is reflected and measured by four photodiodes. This measurement is used to calculate how the sensor is being deformed.

This development originated from research on intuitive controls based on the human skin. This gave rise to the idea of providing robotic grippers with comparably sensitive perception. Now it turns out that this pin-point sized sensor greatly accommodates the human need for intuitive control. Therefore, people at the Saarland Informatics Campus are currently looking into how wearables and other mobile solutions could benefit . The results could then become valuable again in industrial applications, for example, in machine control or in dealing with collaborative robots.