Robot reproduces the softness of materials

A new robot can precisely mimic the softness of various materials. In future, medical students could use it to practise detecting malignant tumours or researchers could feel the softness of an object in space.

According to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), the digital transfer of softness has successfully overcome a deceptively complex challenge. After all, how soft a material feels depends on several different processes.

"If you press a marshmallow with your fingertip, it's easy to recognise that it's soft. However, if you place a hard biscuit on top of that marshmallow and press again, you can still see that the soft marshmallow is underneath, even though your fingertip is touching a hard surface," explained EPFL PhD student Mustafa Mete.

Beef and a beating heart

There are therefore two elements that are decisive for the softness: How the material feels on the skin of the fingertips, and the force it takes in the finger joint to compress it.

For the development of the robot called Sori (Softness Rendering Interface), the research team led by researcher Jamie Paik separated these two elements. They described this procedure in a study published in the journal "Proceedings" of the US Academy of Sciences (Pnas).

According to the researchers, this enabled them to faithfully recreate the softness of a whole range of materials. From beef, salmon and marshmallows to the leather cover of a book and a beating heart.

Written by: sda

Photos: EPFL/Jamani Caillet

Read more