A Somatic Alphabet Approach to Sensitive Skin for Robots

*W. D. Stiehl, L. Lalla, C. Breazeal


The sense of touch is one of the most important sensory systems in humans. This paper describes an initial step toward the realization of a fully “sensitive skin” for robots in which somatic sensors of varying modalities such as touch, temperature, pain, and proprioception combine, as if letters in an alphabet, to create a more vivid depiction of the world and foster richer human robot interactions. We have developed a new “sensitive” hand, covered in a lifelike silicone “skin” to explore the importance of touch and the formation of the somatic alphabet in the context of our humanoid robot, Leonardo. From initial tests the populations of these sensors show the potential for similar performance to both the mechanoreceptors in human skin and the cortical neurons in the somatosensory cortex.

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