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Watch: Soft Robots to Now Sense Human Touch
Cameras and Shadows to Help in Detection

Researchers at Cornell University have now come up with a method that will allow soft robots to detect physical interactions. This method is low in cost and works on soft and deformable robots. The details are mentioned in the paper, “ShadowSense: Detecting Human Touch in a Social Robot Using Shadow Image Classification”. The paper is published in the Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

Video Credits: Cornell University

With the help of this method the robots will be able to detect different physical interactions without touch. It is possible with the help of a USB camera which is fit into the robot. This camera captures the shadows of hand gestures on the robot. It then employs a machine learning software and classifies these actions.

Yuhan Hu, who is the lead author of the paper and a doctoral student at the Cornell University said, “By placing a camera inside the robot, we can infer how the person is touching it and what the person’s intent is just by looking at the shadow images.” He further adds that, “We think there is interesting potential there, because there are lots of social robots that are not able to detect touch gestures.”

The main aim behind developing such technology is to create inflatable robots capable of guiding and evacuating people to safety during any emergency. Such a condition will require that robot to communicate with the people it is evacuating. It is possible to program the robots to give out certain responses to certain touches and gestures.

The name of this technology developed is ShadowSense. This technology is extremely easy to incorporate in not only robots but also other devices such as balloons which can turn them into touch sensitive devices.

Explaining the entire process Yuhan Hu said, “If the robot can only see you in the form of your shadow, it can detect what you’re doing without taking high fidelity images of your appearance.” He also added that, “That gives you a physical filter and protection, and provides psychological comfort.”

This technology is capable of turning the robot’s skin into an interactive screen. With the help of mass collection of data this robot will be able to recognise even a wider range of interactions.

The world of robotics and technology is ever changing and evolving. Every day it has something new to offer to humanity. Many times robots have proved to be beneficial in carrying out most difficult tasks with ease. The researchers, scientists and engineers all over the world are now trying to harness the power of robotics for the betterment of society and humanity.

ShadowSense technology provides more than one vital service. It provides absolute privacy to its users, something that is quite rare in such times. It also makes the robots extremely user friendly and comforting.

This robot is still a prototype. It has a cylindrical skeleton with a soft inflatable bladder of nylon skin. The height of those robots is measured to be around 4 feet. The USB camera which is fit into the robot can be connected to a laptop. So far the robot is able to distinguish between touching with a palm, punching, hugging, pointing, touching with two hands and not touching at all.

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