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Researchers at MIT have equipped the Baxter robot from Rethink Robotics with a fingertip sensor, which helps it to position its pinchers with remarkable precision. The robot was able to grab the USB cable and inserted it into the USB port.
The sensor was modified and upgraded with a technology called GelSight, the same 2-D imaging sensor, which was developed by MIT researchers in 2011. A GelSight sensor, both original and new, adds exceptional sensitivity to robot's pinching fingers, i.e. how hard to squeeze when holding an object.
A GelSight sensor - both the original and the new robot-mounted version - consists of a slab of transparent, synthetic rubber coated on one side with a metallic skin. The rubber also acts as a sticky finger pad and corresponds to any object it's pressed against.
GelSight combines the rubber slab with a metallic skin with a series of cameras that surround it to record imagery.
It works like a scanner as it is capable of capturing information about an object's surface and stores it digitally. Instead of depending on thousands of tiny force sensors, the system analyses the shape of the object and how close it is to the light sensors. The recoded shape of the USB cable helps it to position it into the USB port.
The first-generation GelSight was sensitive enough to recognize the raised ink patterns on a $20 bill. However, newer versions are accurate to depths of less than a micrometer.
Edward Adelson, Professor of vision science at MIT, said, "I expected to be fascinated by watching how they used their visual systems, but I was actually more fascinated by how they used their fingers. The most sensible thing was to figure out a way to transform the mechanical, tactile signal into a visual signal".