1600935686_Giving-soft-robots-feeling-MIT-News.png

Giving soft robots feeling | MIT News

One of the hottest topics in robotics is the field of soft robots, which utilizes squishy and flexible materials rather than traditional rigid materials. But soft robots have been limited due to their lack of good sensing. A good robotic gripper needs to feel what it is touching (tactile sensing), and it needs to sense the positions of its fingers (proprioception). Such sensing has been missing from most soft robots.

In a new pair of papers, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) came up with new tools to let robots better perceive what they’re interacting with: the ability to see and classify items, and a softer, delicate touch. 

“We wish to enable seeing the world by feeling the world. Soft robot hands have sensorized skins that allow them to pick up a range of objects, from delicate, such as potato chips, to heavy, such as milk bottles,” says CSAIL Director Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the deputy dean of research for the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. 

One paper builds off last year’s research from MIT and Harvard University, where a team developed a soft and strong robotic gripper in the form of a cone-shaped origami structure. It collapses in on objects much like a Venus’ flytrap, to pick up items that are as much as 100 times its weight. 

To get that newfound versatility and adaptability even closer to that of a human hand, a new team came up with a sensible addition: tactile sensors, made from latex “bladders” (balloons) connected to pressure transducers. The new sensors let the gripper not only pick up objects as delicate as potato chips, but it also classifies them — letting the robot better understand what it’s picking up, while also exhibiting that light touch. 

When classifying objects, the sensors correctly identified 10 objects with over 90 percent accuracy, even when an object slipped out of grip.

“Unlike many other soft tactile sensors, ours can be rapidly fabricated, retrofitted into grippers, and show sensitivity and reliability,” says MIT postdoc Josie Hughes, the lead author on a new paper about the sensors. “We hope they provide a new method of soft sensing that can be applied to a wide range of different applications in manufacturing settings, like packing and lifting.” 

In a second paper, a group of researchers created a soft robotic finger called “GelFlex” that uses embedded cameras and deep learning to enable high-resolution tactile sensing and “proprioception” (awareness of positions and movements of the body). 

The gripper, which looks much like a two-finger cup gripper you might see at a soda station, uses a tendon-driven mechanism to actuate the fingers. When tested on metal objects of various shapes, the system had over 96 percent recognition accuracy. 

“Our soft finger can provide high accuracy on proprioception and accurately predict grasped objects, and also withstand considerable impact without harming the interacted environment and itself,” says Yu She, lead author on a new paper on GelFlex. “By constraining soft fingers with a flexible exoskeleton, and performing high-resolution sensing with embedded cameras, we open up a large range of capabilities for soft manipulators.” 

Magic ball senses 

The magic ball gripper is made from a soft origami structure, encased by a soft balloon. When a vacuum is applied to the balloon, the origami structure closes around the object, and the gripper deforms to its structure. 

While this motion lets the gripper grasp a much wider range of objects than ever before, such as soup cans, hammers, wine glasses, drones, and even a single broccoli floret, the greater intricacies of delicacy and understanding were still out of reach — until they added the sensors.  

When the sensors experience force or strain, the internal pressure changes, and the team can measure this change in pressure to identify when it will feel that again. 

In addition to the latex sensor, the team also developed an algorithm which uses feedback to let the gripper possess a human-like duality of being both strong and precise — and 80 percent of the tested objects were successfully grasped without damage. 

The team tested the gripper-sensors on a variety of household items, ranging from heavy bottles to small, delicate objects, including cans, apples, a toothbrush, a water bottle, and a bag of cookies. 

Going forward, the team hopes to make the methodology scalable, using computational design and reconstruction methods to improve the resolution and coverage using this new sensor technology. Eventually, they imagine using the new sensors to create a fluidic sensing skin that shows scalability and sensitivity. 

Hughes co-wrote the new paper with Rus, which they will present virtually at the 2020 International Conference on Robotics and Automation. 

GelFlex

In the second paper, a CSAIL team looked at giving a soft robotic gripper more nuanced, human-like senses. Soft fingers allow a wide range of deformations, but to be used in a controlled way there must be rich tactile and proprioceptive sensing. The team used embedded cameras with wide-angle “fisheye” lenses that capture the finger’s deformations in great detail.

To create GelFlex, the team used silicone material to fabricate the soft and transparent finger, and put one camera near the fingertip and the other in the middle of the finger. Then, they painted reflective ink on the front and side surface of the finger, and added LED lights on the back. This allows the internal fish-eye camera to observe the status of the front and side surface of the finger. 

The team trained neural networks to extract key information from the internal cameras for feedback. One neural net was trained to predict the bending angle of GelFlex, and the other was trained to estimate the shape and size of the objects being grabbed. The gripper could then pick up a variety of items such as a Rubik’s cube, a DVD case, or a block of aluminum. 

During testing, the average positional error while gripping was less than 0.77 millimeter, which is better than that of a human finger. In a second set of tests, the gripper was challenged with grasping and recognizing cylinders and boxes of various sizes. Out of 80 trials, only three were classified incorrectly. 

In the future, the team hopes to improve the proprioception and tactile sensing algorithms, and utilize vision-based sensors to estimate more complex finger configurations, such as twisting or lateral bending, which are challenging for common sensors, but should be attainable with embedded cameras.

Yu She co-wrote the GelFlex paper with MIT graduate student Sandra Q. Liu, Peiyu Yu of Tsinghua University, and MIT Professor Edward Adelson. They will present the paper virtually at the 2020 International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

Covid Abruzzo Basilicata Calabria Campania Emilia Romagna Friuli Venezia Giulia Lazio Liguria Lombardia Marche Molise Piemonte Puglia Sardegna Sicilia Toscana Trentino Alto Adige Umbria Valle d’Aosta Veneto Italia Agrigento Alessandria Ancona Aosta Arezzo Ascoli Piceno Asti Avellino Bari Barletta-Andria-Trani Belluno Benevento Bergamo Biella Bologna Bolzano Brescia Brindisi Cagliari Caltanissetta Campobasso Carbonia-Iglesias Caserta Catania Catanzaro Chieti Como Cosenza Cremona Crotone Cuneo Enna Fermo Ferrara Firenze Foggia Forlì-Cesena Frosinone Genova Gorizia Grosseto Imperia Isernia La Spezia L’Aquila Latina Lecce Lecco Livorno Lodi Lucca Macerata Mantova Massa-Carrara Matera Messina Milano Modena Monza e della Brianza Napoli Novara Nuoro Olbia-Tempio Oristano Padova Palermo Parma Pavia Perugia Pesaro e Urbino Pescara Piacenza Pisa Pistoia Pordenone Potenza Prato Ragusa Ravenna Reggio Calabria Reggio Emilia Rieti Rimini Roma Rovigo Salerno Medio Campidano Sassari Savona Siena Siracusa Sondrio Taranto Teramo Terni Torino Ogliastra Trapani Trento Treviso Trieste Udine Varese Venezia Verbano-Cusio-Ossola Vercelli Verona Vibo Valentia Vicenza Viterbo

Letting-robots-manipulate-cables-MIT-News-scaled.jpg

Letting robots manipulate cables | MIT News

news .mit.edu/sites/default/files/styles/news_article__cover_image__original/public/images/202007/robot-grippers-cable.JPG?itok=PJ6Nd1Cy” />

For humans, it can be challenging to manipulate thin flexible objects like ropes, wires, or cables. But if these problems are hard for humans, they are nearly impossible for robots. As a cable slides between the fingers, its shape is constantly changing, and the robot’s fingers must be constantly sensing and adjusting the cable’s position and motion.

Standard approaches have used a series of slow and incremental deformations, as well as mechanical fixtures, to get the job done. Recently, a group of researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and from the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering pursued the task from a different angle, in a manner that more closely mimics us humans. The team’s new system uses a pair of soft robotic grippers with high-resolution tactile sensors (and no added mechanical constraints) to successfully manipulate freely moving cables.

One could imagine using a system like this for both industrial and household tasks, to one day enable robots to help us with things like tying knots, wire shaping, or even surgical suturing. 

The team’s first step was to build a novel two-fingered gripper. The opposing fingers are lightweight and quick moving, allowing nimble, real-time adjustments of force and position. On the tips of the fingers are vision-based “GelSight” sensors, built from soft rubber with embedded cameras. The gripper is mounted on a robot arm, which can move as part of the control system.

The team’s second step was to create a perception-and-control framework to allow cable manipulation. For perception, they used the GelSight sensors to estimate the pose of the cable between the fingers, and to measure the frictional forces as the cable slides. Two controllers run in parallel: one modulates grip strength, while the other adjusts the gripper pose to keep the cable within the gripper.

When mounted on the arm, the gripper could reliably follow a USB cable starting from a random grasp position. Then, in combination with a second gripper, the robot can move the cable “hand over hand” (as a human would) in order to find the end of the cable. It could also adapt to cables of different materials and thicknesses.

As a further demo of its prowess, the robot performed an action that humans routinely do when plugging earbuds into a cell phone. Starting with a free-floating earbud cable, the robot was able to slide the cable between its fingers, stop when it felt the plug touch its fingers, adjust the plug’s pose, and finally insert the plug into the jack. 

“Manipulating soft objects is so common in our daily lives, like cable manipulation, cloth folding, and string knotting,” says Yu She, MIT postdoc and lead author on a new paper about the system. “In many cases, we would like to have robots help humans do this kind of work, especially when the tasks are repetitive, dull, or unsafe.” 

String me along 

Cable following is challenging for two reasons. First, it requires controlling the “grasp force” (to enable smooth sliding), and the “grasp pose” (to prevent the cable from falling from the gripper’s fingers).  

This information is hard to capture from conventional vision systems during continuous manipulation, because it’s usually occluded, expensive to interpret, and sometimes inaccurate. 

What’s more, this information can’t be directly observed with just vision sensors, hence the team’s use of tactile sensors. The gripper’s joints are also flexible — protecting them from potential impact. 

The algorithms can also be generalized to different cables with various physical properties like material, stiffness, and diameter, and also to those at different speeds. 

When comparing different controllers applied to the team’s gripper, their control policy could retain the cable in hand for longer distances than three others. For example, the “open-loop” controller only followed 36 percent of the total length, the gripper easily lost the cable when it curved, and it needed many regrasps to finish the task. 

Looking ahead 

The team observed that it was difficult to pull the cable back when it reached the edge of the finger, because of the convex surface of the GelSight sensor. Therefore, they hope to improve the finger-sensor shape to enhance the overall performance. 

In the future, they plan to study more complex cable manipulation tasks such as cable routing and cable inserting through obstacles, and they want to eventually explore autonomous cable manipulation tasks in the auto industry.

Yu She wrote the paper alongside MIT PhD students Shaoxiong Wang, Siyuan Dong, and Neha Sunil; Alberto Rodriguez, MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering; and Edward Adelson, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor in the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. 

This work was supported by the Amazon Research Awards, the Toyota Research Institute, and the Office of Naval Research.

Covid Abruzzo Basilicata Calabria Campania Emilia Romagna Friuli Venezia Giulia Lazio Liguria Lombardia Marche Molise Piemonte Puglia Sardegna Sicilia Toscana Trentino Alto Adige Umbria Valle d’Aosta Veneto Italia Agrigento Alessandria Ancona Aosta Arezzo Ascoli Piceno Asti Avellino Bari Barletta-Andria-Trani Belluno Benevento Bergamo Biella Bologna Bolzano Brescia Brindisi Cagliari Caltanissetta Campobasso Carbonia-Iglesias Caserta Catania Catanzaro Chieti Como Cosenza Cremona Crotone Cuneo Enna Fermo Ferrara Firenze Foggia Forlì-Cesena Frosinone Genova Gorizia Grosseto Imperia Isernia La Spezia L’Aquila Latina Lecce Lecco Livorno Lodi Lucca Macerata Mantova Massa-Carrara Matera Messina Milano Modena Monza e della Brianza Napoli Novara Nuoro Olbia-Tempio Oristano Padova Palermo Parma Pavia Perugia Pesaro e Urbino Pescara Piacenza Pisa Pistoia Pordenone Potenza Prato Ragusa Ravenna Reggio Calabria Reggio Emilia Rieti Rimini Roma Rovigo Salerno Medio Campidano Sassari Savona Siena Siracusa Sondrio Taranto Teramo Terni Torino Ogliastra Trapani Trento Treviso Trieste Udine Varese Venezia Verbano-Cusio-Ossola Vercelli Verona Vibo Valentia Vicenza Viterbo

Recent Posts

Archives