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Sensitive, Smart and Strong - Too Bad it's Just a Robotic Arm
Date:7/23/2008

and sensitive is to model it on the human body and brain.
This approach, called biomimetics, is inspired by the realisation that evolution has provided the human body and brain with an astonishing range of abilities. "We can run for hours, yet also perform very high precision tasks," says van der Smagt. "If you compare that to any robot system, it's oceans apart."

After two-and-a-half years of research, and %u20AC6.5 million in funding by the EU's Sixth Framework Programme for research, SENSOPAC scientists have designed and tested a human-like arm with a dextrous and sensitive hand, controlled by a computer program inspired by the human cerebellum.

Sensitive skin
Every step towards this accomplishment required groundbreaking research by the 11 partners in the consortium.

To develop robotic skin as sensitive as human skin, the researchers started by studying how human skin senses not just pressure and position but features such as the direction pressure is coming from.

To mimic the skin's sensing capabilities, researchers at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), guided by physiology results from Ume University, in Sweden, created a thin flexible material filled with a form of carbon whose resistance changes with pressure. This approach let them combine information from sensors in different parts of the skin in order to minimise the number of information-carrying wires.

"We can soon integrate hundreds of detector elements and get the information out with just five wires," says van der Smagt. "And we have the ability to distinguish between shape, the amount of force, and the direction of force."

The human arm and hand can generate and control a remarkable range of force, from the delicate touch of a watchmaker to the power of a javelin thrower. Much of
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