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April 6, 2015

Giving robots and prostheses the human touch

The UCLA Biomechatronics Lab develops a language of touch that can be "felt" by computers and humans alike

Research engineers and students in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Biomechatronics Lab are designing artificial limbs to be more sensational, with the emphasis on sensation.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the team, led by mechanical engineer Veronica J. Santos, is constructing a language of touch that both a computer and a human can understand. The researchers are quantifying this with mechanical touch sensors that interact with objects of various shapes, sizes and textures. Using an array of instrumentation, Santos' team is able to translate that interaction into data a computer can understand.

The data is used to create a formula or algorithm that gives the computer the ability to identify patterns among the items it has in its library of experiences and something it has never felt before. This research will help the team develop artificial haptic intelligence, which is, essentially, giving robots, as well as prostheses, the "human touch."

The research in this episode is supported by NSF award #1208519, NRI-Small: Context-Driven Haptic Inquiry of Objects Based on Task Requirements for Artificial Grasp and Manipulation. NRI is the acronym for the National Robotics Initiative.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent and Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.