Researchers in the Grasp and Manual Interaction Laboratories at Bielefeld University, run by CoAI JRC member Helge Ritter, study everyday human manipulation actions such as opening a jar, fetching items from a fridge, or handing objects to someone else, and investigate how the insights gained can be translated into more human-like robot control strategies. The labs include state of the art eye-, motion- and force-tracking systems for observing and analyzing human actions, as well as multiple sets of robot arms and Shadow Dexterous Robot Hands with tactile sensors for conducting real-time control tasks involving tactile, force, or vision feedback. The Grasp and Manual Interaction Labs power research that is crucial for the CoAI JRC’s objective of developing robotic systems that can cooperate effectively with humans on everyday joint tasks in natural task settings.
Humans rely heavily on their sense of touch when performing everyday manipulation tasks, but transferring this ability to robots presents an enormous challenge. One important current line of research in the labs investigates how humans rely on touch and tactile feedback, and looks for ways to equip robots to do the same — for example, with the help of a “tactile skin” that enables a robot hand to detect pressure.
Innovations stemming from this line of research also include technology that lets a robot hand feel the difference between an object sliding over a surface as it is pushed and the hand slipping over the object itself, an ability that is so basic for human manipulations that we rarely notice we are using it.
Another important line of research in the labs focuses on the cognitive robotics needed to enable a robot to use visual as well as tactile senses to coordinate everyday manipulation tasks with a human partner, tasks such as handing someone a jar for help getting it open.