Soft robotic gripper holding a ball

A robotic hand’s sensors can gather information about the ball’s temperature and texture. Credit: Ryan Truby/Harvard SEAS


Robotic fingers get touchy-feely

3D-printed sensors provide feedback about objects held by an artificial hand.

Scientists have endowed a soft robot with sensitivity akin to the human sense of touch.

A team led by Robert Wood and Jennifer Lewis at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used 3D printing to make rubber robotic fingers with feedback sensors composed of a conductive gel. When the researchers manipulated the fingers, the sensors supplied data on each finger’s orientation, and detected contact with other surfaces.

The team combined three fingers to create a soft hand that could grip a ball and provide feedback on its temperature and texture. Data captured by the robotic gripper could be useful for enabling precise control of future soft robots that have a feel for their surroundings.