A vibrissa-inspired highly flexible tactile sensor: scanning 3D object surfaces providing tactile images

Just as the sense of touch complements vision in various species, several robots could benefit from advanced tactile sensors, in particular when operating under poor visibility. A prominent tactile sense organ, frequently serving as a natural paragon for developing tactile sensors, is the vibrissae of, e.g., rats. Within this study, we present a vibrissa-inspired sensor concept for 3D object scanning and reconstruction to be exemplarily used in mobile robots. The setup consists of a highly flexible rod attached to a 3D force-torque transducer (measuring device). The scanning process is realized by translationally shifting the base of the rod relative to the object. Consequently, the rod sweeps over the object’s surface, undergoing large bending deflections. Then, the support reactions at the base of the rod are evaluated for contact localization. Presenting a method of theoretically generating these support reactions, we provide an important basis for future parameter studies. During scanning, lateral slip of the rod is not actively prevented, in contrast to literature. In this way, we demonstrate the suitability of the sensor for passively dragging it on a mobile robot. Experimental scanning sweeps using an artificial vibrissa (steel wire) of length 50 mm and a glass sphere as a test object with a diameter of 60 mm verify the theoretical results and serve as a proof of concept.


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