Jan 18, 2017 | By Benedict
TacTip, a 3D printed optical tactile sensor developed by researchers at the UK’s Bristol University, has won first prize in the 2016 Soft Robotics Competition in the Contributions in Soft Robotics Research category. The sensors could provide robots of the future with human-like dexterity.
Created to inspire researchers and students using the open-source Soft Robotics Toolkit, the Annual Soft Robotics Competition has now been running for three years, and the three winners of its 2016 edition were announced this week. While all demonstrated skill and application, the project most relevant to our interests was that of the United Kingdom’s Bristol Robotics Laboratory, whose team won first prize in the Contributions in Soft Robotics Research category. Their creation, a 3D printed optical tactile sensor called “TacTip,” had been under development for over seven years.
According to the Bristol researchers, TacTip functions as a cheap, artificial fingertip that can be tailored to certain applications and 3D printed with minimal difficulty. The sensors can be mounted on robotic arms or hands, and could provide robots with human-like dexterity. “It is great to know the TacTip project is being recognized and will gain exposure, which could lead other groups to explore applications of tactile sensing within soft robotics,” said Nathan Lepora, team leader on the project and senior lecturer in robotics and computational neuroscience at the University of Bristol. “It is also nice to be featured among the other great soft robotics projects on the website.”
To create its 3D printed fingertip sensor, the Bristol soft robotics team had to design their device carefully, while also taking care to choose the most suitable material. In the end, they chose the Tango Black + and VeroWhite 3D printing filaments from Stratasys, filling them with a clear silicon gel after printing. The inside of the tip comprises of a series of geometrically arranged white-tipped pins that deform when an object is contacted, and are tracked using an off-the-shelf Microsoft LIfecam Cinema webcam. Different patterns of pin displacement can, according to the researchers, provide information on object shape, object localization, contact force, torque, and shear.
The Bristol researchers stuck with Stratasys products for both materials and machinery, 3D printing the plastic parts of the TacTip on a Stratasys Fortus 450mc, while they also used a laser cutter, soldering iron, and other tools while fabricating the sensor. And while the Bristol researchers may have scooped the top prize at the Soft Robotics Competition, they are also taking a commercial approach to their work: the TacTip is available to order from the researchers by email, or can be fabricated following online instructions.
Other winners of the 2016 Soft Robotics Competition included a team from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), which claimed first prize for its Bio-Inspired Manta Ray Robot in the College-Level Soft Robotics category, and high-schoolers Aidan Leitch and Harrison Young, who won in their age category for a Pneumatic Deformation Sensor and a Fabric-Reinforced Controlled Motion Robot, respectively. The 2017 edition of the competition is now open for entries.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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