Contact Sensors for Dexterous Robotic Hands
This thesis examines a tactile sensor and a thermal sensor for use with the Utah-MIT dexterous four fingered hand. Sensory feedback is critical or full utilization of its advanced manipulatory capabilities. The hand itself provides tendon tensions and joint angles information. However, planned control algorithms require more information than these sources can provide. The tactile sensor utilizes capacitive transduction with a novel design based entirely on silicone elastomers. It provides an 8 x 8 array of force cells with 1.9 mm center-to-center spacing. A pressure resolution of 8 significant bits is available over a 0 to 200 grams per square mm range. The thermal sensor measures a material's heat conductivity by radiating heat into an object and measuring the resulting temperature variations. This sensor has a 4 x 4 array of temperature cells with 3.5 mm center-to-center spacing. Experiments show that the thermal sensor can discriminate among material by detecting differences in their thermal conduction properties. Both sensors meet the stringent mounting requirements posed by the Utah-MIT hand. Combining them together to form a sensor with both tactile and thermal capabilities will ultimately be possible. The computational requirements for controlling a sensor equipped dexterous hand are severe. Conventional single processor computers do not provide adequate performance. To overcome these difficulties, a computational architecture based on interconnecting high performance microcomputers and a set of software primitives tailored for sensor driven control has been proposed. The system has been implemented and tested on the Utah-MIT hand. The hand, equipped with tactile and thermal sensors and controlled by its computational architecture, is one of the most advanced robotic manipulatory devices available worldwide. Other ongoing projects will exploit these tools and allow the hand to perform tasks that exceed the capabilities of current generation robots.