Let me start off by telling it is not easy being a robot. While some tasks are a piece of cake, others are quite frustrating. For instance, just imagine how annoying it would be to plug a USB cable into an iPhone charger.
Well, that difficulty was faced by the industrial robot Baxter, which was developed by Rethink Robotics. But the good news is that he is quite familiar with the task now. In fact, he’s a pro at it! A few days back, Baxter was given a dexterity upgrade by the researchers at MIT and NorthEastern University. It was a brand new fingertip sensor. It allows him to pose his pincher with great accuracy even when some dangling object is the target.
The sensor is an adaptation of GelSight. GelSight is a cube shaped 2.5D imaging sensor which was developed by the researchers at MIT in the year 2011. It creates a detailed computer visualized image of any surface you push against it. In fact, the first generation GelSight was so sensitive that it was able to detect the raised ink patterns on a $20 bill. Well, you can imagine the newer versions of it then. They are precise to depths of less than a micrometer.
However, the Gelsight sensor which was put into Baxter’s fingertip by Rethink Robotics isn’t quite that accurate though. Some of the sensitivity was lost when it was being scaled down to the appropriate size. But, it is a hundred times more sensitive than a human finger. Anyway, it’s made quite a huge improvement on Baxter who can now very easily grab a dangling cable and just plug it into a port.
Now, that it is done, we can see for ourselves how huge a leap in the field of robotics this was. Robots are no longer concerned with only picking and placing objects which already have a fixed position.