SynTouch, a California company working to give robots a human-like sense of touch, was recently awarded $2.5M in grants from the National Science Foundation and the Office of Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.
So what’s special about human touch?
Consider what happens when you throw snowballs at your kid for a few minutes or try to scrape ice off a car windshield without wearing gloves. Your hands go numb and it becomes very difficult to perform fine motor tasks, such as zipping up your jacket or getting your keys in the ignition.
Those scenarios are so familiar they may not strike you as noteworthy, but numb hands are a real head scratcher for roboticists. In the above cases, your hands haven’t lost any of their mechanical abilities. Your muscles still work as they always have and the joints open and close freely. What’s changed is your sense of touch. You can no longer feel pressure, texture, heat or a number of other properties that we unconsciously rely on for fine manipulation. Your beautifully capable hands are reduced to clunky manipulators.