Tokyo -- ShokacCube is the world's first soft flexible touch sensor, exploiting the soft-touch properties of flexible polyurethane for humanoid androids, according to developers Touchence, a Tokyo University cooperative venture with industry.
Touchence says the soft foam covering can detect changes in three dimensions. It does this because the sensor itself can change shape, and recognise different types of touch interactions, enabling it to distinguish between being pinched, pushed or rubbed.
Such soft feel is of real benefit in therapeutic robots.
At the Robotech 2011 exhibition in Tokyo, 13-15 July, a Touchence spokesperson said : "When a robot touches a human, most people aren't going to enjoy a hard, metallic touch. So in the future, robots are likely to have soft coverings. But even with a soft exterior, if there's something hard underneath it, that will feel strange. So it's necessary to put soft sensors underneath soft coverings. One application for this is detecting touch with a soft covering, so that when a robot actually touches you, it doesn't feel like there's a sensor underneath."
See the Touchence video from Robotech at www.diginfo.tv/2011/07/19/11-0149-r-en.php
The video shows a robot's foot with three sensors embedded in the sole. They can sense where as well as how much pressure is being exerted on the foot when the robot moves, says Touchence.
At Robotech, the spokesperson added: "The demo here happens to use a robot's foot, but the covering can be used anywhere on a robot, including its arms or body."
He explained that the principle behind the sensors is optical. "Light comes in from the bottom, and the light receivers on top detect its intensity. There are five light receivers, so five signals are produced. The amount of light reaching each receiver during contact is output as data. Finally, the data is used to calculate pressure, showing which part has been touched. That's how these sensors work."
This ShokacCube is the second version Touchence has made. The company reviewed the basic design of a trial version released in December 2010, and says it has now significantly improved its power efficiency and durability. This version will be available from September 2011.
A theme at the robot show in Tokyo was the value of automateddevices for helping in the event of events, such as Japan'sFukushima nuclear disaster following the earthquake and tsunami on11 March 2011. A commentator noted that robots could be a major helpwith clean-up of all types of waste, but especially nuclear waste, andbe valuable in underwater repair and with work at heavily contaminatednuclear sites.