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Facebook is Enabling a New Generation of Touchy-Feely Robots

This article is about the New Generation of Touchy-Feely Robots. Before going to discuss this unique type of Robot, we will start with Examples like Frankenstein’s monster would never have discovered that “fire was bad”. If he didn’t have a sense of touch, we would have had an unstoppable reanimated killing machine on our hands. So be grateful for your most underrated sense, one that robots may eventually enjoy as well. On Monday, Facebook announced the development of a set of tactile technologies that will give robots a sense of touch that the mad doctor could never fathom.

Why is Facebook interested in research for the New Generation of Touchy-Feely Robots?

I was conversing with Mark Zuckerberg before I joined Facebook, and I asked him, “Is there any area connected to AI that you think we shouldn’t be working on?”. During a recent press call, Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief AI scientist, recalled. “And he said, ‘I can’t think of any good reason for us to focus on robotics. That was the beginning of our FAIR research, that we weren’t going to work on robotics.”

“Then, after a few years,” he continued, “it became clear that a lot of interesting progress in AI work is happening in the context of robotics because this is the nexus of where people in AI research are trying to get to. The full loop of perception, reasoning, planning and action, and then getting feedback from the from the environment.”

As a result, FAIR’s tactile technology research has focused on four key areas of investigation: hardware, simulation, processing, and perception. FAIR’s hardware efforts have already been seen: the DIGIT, a “low-cost, small high-resolution tactile sensor” first unveiled by Facebook in 2020.

DIGIT, which uses a tiny camera pointing at the pads to provide a detailed image of the item being touched, was released as an open-source design in 2020. In the image at the top, you can see the fingertips themselves; they’re incredibly sensitive.
The DIGIT project dates back to 2009; we previously covered the MIT project GelSight in 2014 and again in 2020 – the company has since spun off and is now the manufacturing partner for this well-documented method to touch.

An alternative approach is taken by the ReSkin system. In essence, magnetic particles are suspended in a soft gel surface, and a magnetometer beneath it detects their displacement, converting the motions into precise force maps of the pressures that cause the movement.

One of the benefits of a ReSkin system is that the hard component — the chip with the magnetometer and circuitry, for example — is completely independent of the soft component, which is simply a flexible pad impregnated with magnetic dots. That means the surface can become dirty or scratched and be readily changed, while the sensitive component can remain hidden beneath.

DIGIT is a vision-based tactile sensor, unlike traditional tactile sensors that rely on capacitive or resistive technologies. No doubt if we are able to build a New Generation of Touchy-Feely Robots, that can be proven a revolution.

An alternative approach is taken by the ReSkin system. In essence, magnetic particles are suspended in a soft gel surface, and a magnetometer beneath it detects their displacement, converting the motions into precise force maps of the pressures that cause the movement.

One of the benefits of a ReSkin system is that the hard component for the new generation of touchy-feely robots— the chip with the magnetometer and circuitry, for example — is completely independent of the soft component, which is simply a flexible pad impregnated with magnetic dots. That means the surface can become dirty or scratched and be readily changed, while the sensitive component can remain hidden beneath.

In the case of ReSkin, this means you can connect a bunch of the chips in any shape and cover them with a slab of magnetic elastomer, then integrate the signals to receive touch information from the whole thing. It’s not quite that easy, because you have to calibrate it and all, but it’s a lot easier than other artificial skin systems that could function at scales larger than a few square inches.

Robots and other devices can detect the presence of objects and impediments more simply with a pressure-sensitive surface like this, rather than depending on extra friction from the joint exerting force in that direction. As a result, assistive robots could be much gentler and more receptive to touch, not that there are many such robots in the first place. But part of the reason is that, because they lack a keen sense of touch, they can’t be trusted not to crush things or people.

Facebook’s goal here isn’t to come up with new ideas, but to make a proven strategy more accessible and affordable. The software foundation will be open source, and the devices will be reasonably priced, making it easy for other researchers to enter the sector. Building a new generation of touchy-feely robots is a great goal for Facebook or metaverse that is going to be appreciated all over the world.

What do you think?

Written by Emma Ava

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