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MIT spin-out Robot Rebuilt wants to give robotic hands a better sense of touch

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 29, 2012 07:46 AM

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Eduardo Torres-Jara wants to expand the kinds of tasks robots can perform, by giving them more sensitive fingers.

And his startup, Robot Rebuilt, is out making the rounds of Boston venture capital firms.

The new robot, Tactico, builds upon work done at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, and supervised by Rod Brooks, the iRobot co-founder who is now at Rethink Robotics. Torres-Jara, now an assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, says that he was "inspired by the ridges humans have on their fingers. We wanted to make a robotic hand that would mimic that, and achieve some of the same sensitivity our hands have."

eduardo-robot.jpgWhile Tactico would have cameras to help it "see" an object in front of it, it would use those aqua-colored pads on its fingers to find the edges of the object, sort of the way humans use their fingers when groping in the dark for an alarm clock on a bedside table. Inside each pad is a sensor that can detect force, and understand which direction the force is coming from. That, says Torres-Jara, enables Tactico to pick up anything from eggs to wine glasses to paper cylinders.

One application, he says, would be moving prototype parts around as they are being formed by a CNC machine. Another would be pipetting liquid samples in a lab. "Right now, PhDs come in at 3 AM to take care of their experiments," Torres-Jara says. "Our robot could do that."

Robot Rebuilt is in the midst of negotiating a technology license from MIT, and Torres-Jara says it will likely be based in Cambridge, where he lives. "We're starting with the hand, but we're also working on building an arm," he says.

Videos below...


Tactico picking up a "Go" stone from a gameboard:

Finding and grasping a ceramic mug:

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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