Softer is Better – The Next Wave of Robots and Sensors

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

Gerald Loeb, a professor at the University of Southern California, is also developing soft sensors and finding innovative use cases in industrial settings. In our conversation, he explained that while vision and hearing are broadly computerized today, touch is still mostly unknown. Since founding SynTouch in 2008, Dr. Loeb and his team have pushed the barriers of understanding of the third major sense, and developed sensors that replicate human-like tactile awareness.

To date, SynTouch’s two most promising use cases are in prosthetics and consumer products. In the former, the company has developed a prosthetic fingertip that can be mounted on robotic hands (see picture). With an elastic skin, and saltwater replicating the pulp beneath it, electrodes placed on the “bone” of the structure can extract patterns of deformation, and adjust the user’s grasp of an object.

In the consumer market, SynTouch has solved a major challenge for making products: being able to computerize the tactile properties of materials. With its tactile evaluation instrument, the company can evaluate 15 dimensions of touch (texture, thermal, adhesive, compliance and friction properties), and help clients find the right materials for their products, as well as test product batches for quality control.

This second use case is rapidly gaining traction. With marquee clients such as Procter & Gamble, Apple, L’Oreal and Ford, SynTouch is trying to keep up with demand. Growing organically, the company now employs a dozen people, and is considering taking on external investors.

Source: CTG Insights – February 2017

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