Advances in robotics: Bridging the Gap with Human Touch

Do you believe robotic machines are emotionally capable? To some extent, programmers can display robots to have feelings.

From online artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot assistants to Sophia the social humanoid robot who can give emotional responses in a conversation. These robots might be able to simulate emotions, but will they ever be able to experience senses such as touch?

More industries are beginning to invest in automation in the supply chain to improve productivity. Robots are often introduced to an assembly line to complete jobs that require accuracy, repeatability, and speed. Specifically, jobs that a human cannot complete to the same standard.These large, industrial robots can also complete the dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs. Therefore, human workers can concentrate on other tasks.

Manufacturers can invest in robots to perform these more difficult tasks at a faster rate. However, some assembly line work, especially in the warehouse, still calls for human dexterity and touch.

The last decade has seen a surge in the use of collaborative robots. These may be stationed anywhere in a facility to aid humans in their jobs without putting them in danger. This area of robotics is considered more precise and soft than an industrial robot. Still, this is not the safest way to transport fragile items.

Feeling fragile

Groceries and glass bottles are two examples of perishable commodities that need special care in e-commerce fulfilment center's. This is so they reach customers in the same condition as when they were shipped. Humans often complete these jobs because they can adapt their movements and understand how much force to apply to each product. For instance, you will have to handle an egg differently than a packet of food.

Traditionally, engineers fit robots used for delicate pick and place applications with silicone grippers. These grippers can grasp or pinch the object and handle it without causing damage. They often combine cameras and sensors, and coders programme them to handle a specific product, requiring reprogramming if the product changes.

Robotics advancements have the potential to boost efficiency in delicate pick and place applications. This is something firms should think about if they want to keep up with rising consumer demands.

Meet Hank The Robot

Global development and technology consultancy Cambridge Consultants has developed a robot that can emulate human touch. Hank uses sensors and soft grippers controlled by airflow.

Each finger is controlled individually and responds to touch sensors. These fingers will locate the object. From here, they can adjust their position and close around an object until they “feel” the product and grasp it.

Hank’s human-like tactile sensitivity allows him to pick small, irregular and delicate items without reprogramming. Hank can also apply increased force if it detects a slip, reducing the risk of breakages.

Second skin

High tech start-up Wootzano has developed an electronic skin to give robots a sense of touch. Wootzkin is equipped with piezoelectric and piezoresistive sensors. As well as embedded temperature sensors, for measuring force and pressure.

This will give the robot feedback on force, temperature, pressure, and humidity. This is done so that it can learn how to handle products as a human would.

So, a robot might never be able to feel in the same way that a human does. However, this does not prevent robots from completing tasks that require a human touch. New developments in robotics, such as Hank and Wootzkin, allow manufacturers to improve dexterity on automated assembly lines and warehouses. These advancements do this without a compromise on productivity.