Mar 22, 2017 | By Tess

A team of researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK is working on the development of a biomimetic forebrain that can be installed in 3D printed robot hands to increase their manipulation skills and applications. The project has received £1 million in funding from the Leverhulme Trust under the Research Leadership Award scheme.

3D printed tactile robot hand on display at the Science Museum in London

(Image: University of Bristol)

Led by Dr. Nathan Lepora from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), the research project is seeking to develop a biomimetic forebrain (the anterior part of the brain) that could help 3D printed tactile robots perform a wider range of manipulation tasks at a higher level of quality. The robotic brain will be based on computer models of a mammal neural system, capable of communicating touch in both humans and animals.

The ultimate goal of the five-year research program will be to provide a 3D printed robot hand with humanistic tactile dexterity through the implementation of the complex biomimetic forebrain.  The interdisciplinary project is combining work from the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy dealing with the brain.

If a robot having human-like hands sounds a bit off-putting, the advancement could be crucial to realizing many applications that humans see robots doing in the near future. As Dr. Lepora explained, “People see a robotics revolution happening but many things won’t be achieved if robots don’t have hands that they can use to dexterously control the world around them through a sense of touch.”

That is, in order for robots to effectively take on interactive jobs in the sectors of autonomous assembly lines, assisted living, food production, healthcare, etc., they will need a sense of touch, so to speak. The response of touch, a crucial part of how humans live their day-to-day lives, will be essential if robots are to take on many advanced tasks and manipulations. At the moment, no one has successfully been able to connect what the robot feels to how it acts.

Of course, that’s where Dr. Lepora and his team are hoping to make some headway, though they do recognize the many challenges that are facing them. As he commented: "It's about bringing together tactile hands and algorithms based on how the brain works. Why is it so difficult? The human hand has evolved over tens of millions of years. People's intelligence has evolved in tandem with their hands to give them their unique role in the animal kingdom of being able to manipulate their surroundings so profoundly. So replicating that in a robotic device is both a challenge and an inspiration.”

The Bristol Robotics Laboratory’s Tactile Robotics research team has already made some significant steps towards its goal of sentient 3D printed robot hands. For instance, the group recently presented TacTip, an innovative and open-source 3D printed fingertip which is capable of feeling things. The 3D printed fingertip even won Harvard University’s International Soft Robotics Competition. The research group also has one of their 3D printed tactile robot hands on display at the Science Museum in London, in the Robots exhibition.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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