Low-cost tactile sensing ‘skin’ for AI research
Intended to be affordable, durable, and easy to use, the technology – called “ReSkin” – harnesses advances in machine learning, soft robotics, and magnetic sensing to create a skin that is versatile and as easy to apply as a bandage.
“I want this sensing skin to be so robust and simple that anyone could set it up and start gathering touch data within a day,” says Tess Hellebrekers, a postdoctoral researcher at Meta AI who earned her Ph.D. from CMU’s Robotics Institute (RI) in 2020.
The researchers say the technology could lead to an explosion of possible applications for tactile sensing. It will provide rich contact data for touch-based tasks like determining what something is, sensing movement and grasping an object. This could help in health care or in areas where dexterity to maneuver small, soft or sensitive objects is critical.
ReSkin costs less than $600 for 100 units and even less for larger quantities. It is two to three millimeters thick and can last for more than 50,000 interactions. Its sensors provide high resolution results and can detect slipping, throwing, catching and clapping.
All this, say the researchers, makes ReSkin ideal for use on robotic hands, tactile gloves, arm sleeves and even dog shoes, and helps them collect data that previously would have been difficult or impossible to gather.
“When it wears out,” says Abhinav Gupta, an associate professor in the RI and the research manager at Meta AI, “it can be easily peeled off and replaced with a new one.”
ReSkin can easily be replaced because there are no wires between the skin and the sensing board, which only needs to be nearby. AI methods contribute to its ease of use, including methods that eenable the sensors to autocalibrate and allow the data to remain consistent even when the skin is replaced. ReSkin requires no hardware or software changes between sensor skins.
“Repeatability and replaceability are two of the biggest bottlenecks hindering widespread use of soft sensors in robotics,” says Raunaq Bhirangi, a Ph.D. student in robotics at CMU. “With ReSkin, we use simple machine learning techniques to solve these problems and open a scalable and inexpensive tactile sensing module that can be used for a diverse set of applications.”
While improvements in computer vision have helped robots and AI see and perceive the world as humans do, say the researchers, and natural language processing has given computers the ability to listen and speak, touch is another step toward infusing AI and robotics with a sense of what it is like to be human.
“We want AI to understand the richness of the world,” says Gupta. “Touch really helps you sense the world in a true form.”
ReSkin is part of a broader research initiative by Meta AI into touch and tactile sensing that includes high-resolution tactile hardware, simulators, benchmarks and data sets. Facebook AI hopes improvements in touch unlock possibilities in augmented and virtual reality and lead to innovations in industrial, medical and agricultural robotics.
For more, see “ReSkin: a versatile, replaceable, low-cost skin for AI research on tactile perception.”
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