Friday, 28 June 2013

KASPAR the robot becomes more sensitive to touch

KASPAR the robot
KASPAR has been fitted with ROBOSKIN sensor patches as part of a European project to develop more sensitive robots. KASPAR is the humanoid robot designed by Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn and her team to help children with autism to communicate better.


Developing new artificial skin and sensor technologies could help robots to become a lot more sensitive – with a view that they will perhaps one day be used in industry, hospitals and even at home! Such new capabilities will improve the way that robots work in unconstrained settings, as well as improving their ability to communicate and cooperate with each other and humans.

The 3-year EU-funded project “Skin-based technologies and capabilities for safe, autonomous and interactive robots” (ROBOSKIN), that ended in 2012, has developed new sensor technologies and algorithms to give robots an artificial sense of touch – which until now has been an under-explored quality in robotics. Inspired by biological skin, the artificial skin is able to detect different types of touch. This work has been carried out by a European consortium coordinated by Professor Giorgio Cannata from University of Genoa in Italy.

The University of Hertfordshire team (including Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn, Dr Ben Robins, Dr Farshid Amirabdollahian and Dr Daniel Polani) developed algorithms so that KASPAR can distinguish between different types of touch and used the touch-sensitive robot in various scenarios as part of trials of robot-assisted play for children with autism.  ROBOSKIN sensor patches were applied to common touch points on KASPAR – such as feet, chest, cheeks and arms.

With the sensor patches fitted, KASPAR can detect differences between wanted and unwanted touch and respond accordingly. For example, when a child hits KASPAR the robot will turn away and say “ouch, that hurts” – which can be used by teachers and therapists as a starting point to discuss cause and effect in social interaction. This work therefore aims at teaching the children about appropriate social tactile interaction.

The European team is still at the pre-commercial demonstrator stage but the latest version of the tactile sensors have great potential in different application areas, including industry… and KASPAR’s development takes another step forwards in helping children with autism.

The ROBOSKIN project received 3.5 million Eur in research funding under the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

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