Towards a Soft Fingertip with Integrated Sensing and Actuation

Benjamin W. McInroe*, Carolyn L. Chen*, Ken Y. Goldberg, Ruzena Bajcsy, Ronald S. Fearing

IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots (IROS), 2018.

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Abstract

Soft material robots are attractive for safe interaction with humans and unstructured environments due to their compliance and low intrinsic stiffness and mass. These properties enable new capabilities such as the ability to conform to environmental geometry for tactile sensing and to undergo large shape changes for actuation. Due to the complex coupling between sensing and actuation in high-dimensional nonlinear soft systems, prior work in soft robotics has primarily focused on either sensing or actuation. This paper presents SOFTcell, a novel controllable stiffness tactile device that incorporates both optical sensing and pneumatic actuation. We report details on the device’s design and implementation and analyze results from characterization experiments on sensitivity and performance, which show that SOFTcell can controllably increase its effective modulus from 4.4kPa to 46.1kPa. Additionally, we demonstrate the utility of SOFTcell for grasping in a reactive control task in which tactile data is used to detect fingertip shear as a grasped object slips, and cell pressurization is used to prevent the slip without the need to adjust fingertip position.