Researchers Plan to Make a Robot With Touchy-Feely Skin

[Photo: University of Ottawa]
This robot, lovingly named Pumpkin, might look like it was made with an oversized LEGO Mindstorm NXT kit but in the future, it could be the closest thing to a human analog. The researchers at the University of Ottawa plan to make Pumpkin look like us, with a face that can express emotions and an artificial skin that can feel just like us.

The artificial skin the scientists plan to employ is made up of an elastic silicon impregnated with tactile and temperature sensors. The sensors in the skin will allow the robot feel contact, pressure, movement, texture, and temperature through its skin just like we do.

The Ottawa team also plans to make interacting with Pumpkin more life-like and natural to the point of it being a human analog. To make touching a cold, life-less robot a bit more natural and warm, a network of tubes underneath the "skin" will circulate hot water.

Eventually, the researchers will replace its head with an anatomically correct human skull covered with the same skin and a spring-loaded jaw to replicate the motion of talking. The face will also be able to mimic facial expressions such as surprise and anger with a set of actuators beneath its skin.

The researchers are also making Pumpkin’s bodily movements more human-like by using a Kinect. Rather than programming Pumpkins limbs to move a certain way, the researchers are using the Kinect’s depth sensing camera to motion capture themselves and transfer the data to wire models that tell the Pumpkin how to move organically.

If the project pans out, we could have our first human-like robot with a rubbery skin. Or…

[University of Ottawa via CBC News and Engadget]

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