Good as robots are at repeating the same motion over and over, they can't adapt to situations nearly as well as good 'old flesh-and-bones. That's where MIT's new fingertip sensor comes in. The technology employed to make a robot version of our fingertips is sophisticated, but surprisingly simple.
It uses an existing project called GelSight, which is a rubber-like material that can map out a surface in microscopic detail when placed on it. The MIT team used a version that's 100x less sensitive than the original — but as a result, it's small enough to fit onto a fingertip, and give real-time feedback about surfaces to the robot.
Researchers showed off their new plaything by having it plug a dangling USB cable into a USB port — an impressive feat, given that humans plug them in upside down quite literally every single time.
The applications are pretty vast: in theory, this could allow assembly-line robots far more ability to pluck things from one conveyor belt and plug them into corresponding parts with far greater accuracy. Or, y'know, allow them to pick up knives and kill us all with millimetric precision when the time comes. [MIT News]