New, more sensitive skin for human-friendly robots

They will work in factories, alongside humans to free them from the heaviest tasks by reducing the risk of injury. They will operate in hospitals, allowing the surgeon to ‘feel’ the organs under the knife even thousands of miles away. They will come into our homes, to help us clean up or to gently lift bedridden elders. Are the collaborative robots who wear a new artificial ‘skin’equipped with tactile sensors capable of locate and detect the intensity of the contact forcejust like human skin receptors do. The result is published in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence in the study coordinated by the Institute of BioRobotics of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna of Pisa, in collaboration with the Italian Institute of Technology (Iit), the Sapienza University of Rome, Campus Bio-Medico of Rome and Ca ‘ Foscari Venezia, with the ARTES 4.0 Competence Center.

To develop this new technology The mobility of researchers from one institution to another was fundamental, with a multi-year research path also financed by the Ministry of University and Research with the PARLOMA project for the development of the collaborative robotic arm, from the Tuscany Region with the project TUNE-BEAM on the study of human touch, and by the European Commission with the project EINST4INE on collaborative robotics for industry 4.0.

“For the first time we have demonstrated the ability to sensorize an extensive area with a complex geometry that covers the entire robotic limb, thanks to sensors that offer refined resolution in the localization of the contact point and in the measurement of the intensity of the force with which the robot interacts with the environment “, explains Calogero Oddo, professor at the Institute of BioRobotics of the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies and scientific coordinator of the study. “This ability is the same that allows our skin to recognize and follow an ant walking on our arm: a skill that will help robots interact more and more safely with humans, objects and the surrounding environment, in industry 4.0 as well as in hospitals and in our homes “.

“Improving safety at work, the results of a surgical procedure, the quality of life of people who need assistance are among our main ambitions”, comments Emiliano Schena, professor at the Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. . To achieve this goal, “we used the integration between physical intelligence and artificial intelligence”, emphasizes Edoardo Sinibaldi of the IIT. The positioning of the sensors inside the artificial skin is in fact based on physical intelligence: so that ‘they talk to each other. they ‘through the skin itself, must be positioned at a certain distance and depth, while the interpretation of the signal produced employs artificial intelligence.

In the future, “thanks to the collaboration with ARTES 4.0Center of Competence selected by the Ministry of Economic Development as part of the Enterprise 4.0 program – underlines Paolo Dario, scientific director of ARTES 4.0 and professor emeritus of the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – these new enabling technologies will be transferred from the research laboratory to the application”.


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