Humans are able stick their arms into cluttered areas like a refrigerator or reach across a table set for dinner without knocking anything over. Robots aren't so good at that. In fact, until now, researchers generally design robots to not touch anything except for the object they're reaching for.
But a robotic arm developed by a team lead by Charlie Kemp, associate professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, has touch sensors that cover its entire "arm," helping it touch other objects gently, while reaching for a specific item. The technique gives robots a more effective and realistic method for dealing with real-world circumstances, where obstacles and clutter are usually an issue.
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Kemp's robots have reached through artificial foliage and piles of cinder blocks that search-and-rescue robots might run into.
In a particularly apt real-world exercise, Kemp's team designed a robot arm that assisted a paraplegic. The robot was able to wipe the subject's face with a cloth and pull a blanket over him (if slowly).