Practical, stretchable smart skin sensors for contact-aware robots in safe and collaborative interactions


Safe, intuitive human-robot interaction requires that robots intelligently interface with their environments, ideally sensing and localizing physical contact across their link surfaces. We introduce a stretchable smart skin sensor that provides this function. Stretchability allows it to conform to arbitrary robotic link surfaces. It senses contact over nearly the entire surface, localizes contact position of a typical finger touch continuously over its entire surface (RMSE = 7.02mm for a 14.7cm×14.7cm area), and provides an estimate of the contact force. Our approach exclusively employs stretchable, flexible materials resulting in skin strains of up to 150%. We exploit novel carbon nanotube elastomers to create a two-dimensional potentiometer surface. Finite element simulations validate a simplified polynomial surface model to enable real-time processing on a basic microcontroller with no supporting electronics. Using only five electrodes, the skin can be scaled up to arbitrary sizes without needing additional electrodes. We designed, implemented, calibrated, and tested a prototype smart skin as a tactile sensor on a custom medical robot for sensing unexpected physical interactions. We experimentally demonstrate its utility in collaborative robotic applications by showing its potential to enable safer, more intuitive human-robot interaction.

DOI: 10.1109/ICRA.2015.7139244

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@article{ONeill2015PracticalSS, title={Practical, stretchable smart skin sensors for contact-aware robots in safe and collaborative interactions}, author={John O'Neill and Jason Lu and Rodney Dockter and Timothy M. Kowalewski}, journal={2015 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA)}, year={2015}, pages={624-629} }