For years, robots have been developed in order to aid humans not only in everyday functions, but in surgical and mechanical procedures. However, there is a large gap between the similarities of humans and robots: the sensation of touch. Scientists have tried time and time again to develop a process that will allow robots to finally have a sense of touch. Thanks to many researchers, this gap is now closing.
Scientists have recently developed a new research process called haptic technology, or the use of machines communicating through the sense of touch. Normally, scientists must rely on a type of visual communication when operating a robot, since robots cannot typically feel what they are touching, particularly when performing a surgical procedure or dealing with dangerous radioactive chemicals. With haptic technology, scientists can use a series of joysticks, which stops when the human hits an obstacle, or through touch screens and vibrations, which is the most common form of haptic feedback.
Cambridge Research and Development have developed the Neo for surgical procedures, which cannot use vibrations, due to nerves. The Neo is a headband like mechanism that moves the robot up and down, rather than in a circular motion, and also pushes against a surgeon’s head before any tissue is damaged by the robot. Using the Neo, surgeons are able to grasp a vein with a robot without damaging or puncturing the tissue or vein.
Robot limbs that act as body parts for those who do not have them are also being developed with touch. The Shadow Hand contains sensors in its fingertips. The key, says director Rich Walker, is to have the “data interpreted by the robot, rather than…the human” (Sofge 1). In this way, reactions to certain stimuli will be faster, much like how the nervous system of humans works.
With all of these developments in haptic technology, it’s no surprise that one day, we all will work side by side with robots.