Robots are able to conduct a lot of tasks more efficiently than their human counterparts, but activities that require fine motor skill were once out of grasp - but researchers are moving in the right direction. Touchlab aims to give robots the ability to use custom grippers that give robots tacticity and the ability to manipulate objects in a more precise manner.
Robots might be ideal for some factory automation, but tasks that require honed motor skills remain extremely challenging to figure out. Touchlab hopes its electronic skin will give doctors full immersion with its full-body Telerobot technology - even if a medical specialist is working remotely.
The electronic skin is thinner than the skin covering our bodies, with the ability to withstand severe temperature changes. The robot makes use of sensors and custom software so they'll have better dexterity when handling objects.
The TIAGo++ robot with custom sensors can be operated by a person wearing a haptic VR bodysuit, with all touch data carefully mimicked by the robot. Trying to accurately replicate human touch is extremely difficult, though Touchlab uses a sensing technology which provides 3D forces at the point of contact.
As said by Zaki Hussein, co-founder and CEO at Touchlab, in a statement published by TechCrunch:
"We have a layer of software that translates the pressure of the skin to the suit. We're also using haptic gloves. Currently, our skin gathers a lot more data than we can currently transmit to the user over haptic interfaces. So there's a little bit of a bottleneck. We can use the full potential of the best haptic interface of the day, but there is a point where the robot is feeling more than the user is able to."
Touchlab expects real-world pilots with visual data shared via VR headset to begin in February. The testing will begin with geriatric patients in a geriatric acute ward, and will provide valuable feedback into how effective the offerings can be.