Unique sweater-like fabric may help robots to feel human touch

The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University has developed a machine-knitted textile "skin" that can detect contact and pressure. 
Mrigakshi Dixit
Bo Ying Su demonstrates RobotSweater.
Bo Ying Su demonstrates RobotSweater.

Carnegie Mellon University/Robotics Institute 

Over recent years, the goal in robotics has been to make robots more humane by incorporating features like artificial muscles for flexible movement and sensors to sense touch. 

To make this possible, engineers have now developed a first-of-its-kind "RobotSweater" that will enable better interaction with humans. The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University has developed a machine-knitted textile "skin" that can be wrapped around the robot's body to detect contact and pressure. 

“We can use that to make the robot smarter during its interaction with humans,” said Changliu Liu, an assistant professor of robotics, in an official statement. 

The development of "RobotSweater"

The researchers investigated the properties of a knitted sweater in order to create a fabric capable of sensing pressure and contact.

The newly designed fabric is composed of two layers of conductive yarn made with metallic fibers to conduct electricity. Between these two layers, a net-like, lace-patterned is inserted.

When pressure is applied to the fabric, or someone touches it, the conductive yarn closes a circuit, which the sensors detect. Once the sweater is on, the robot will be able to feel touch, as well as direction, and even grip strength through touch. 

Another advantage of knitted RobotSweater fabric is that it, like yarn, can easily fit onto uneven three-dimensional surfaces of the robot's body. “Knitting machines can pattern yarn into shapes that are non-flat, that can be curved or lumpy. That made us think maybe we could make sensors that fit over curved or lumpy robots,” said James McCann, an assistant professor whose expertise is in textile fabrication.  

This way, the entire robot body can be covered, and any possible collisions can be detected. This advancement could have a significant impact in industrial settings, where robots can help to improve the safety of human workers. 

According to the official release, the current method for detecting human-robot interaction in industry employs extremely rigid materials that cannot cover the entire body of the robot. 

Connecting the wiring and electronics to the soft textile was one of the challenges the team faced while creating fabric.

To solve this problem, they wrapped the wires around snap fasteners at the end of each knitted fabric stripe. “You need a way of attaching these things together that is strong, so it can deal with stretching, but isn’t going to destroy the yarn,” said McCann.

The capabilities of the robot were demonstrated in their research; for instance, pushing on a robot dressed in this new sensory sweater informed it which way to move or which way to turn its head. 

The RobotSweater research paper is set to be presented at the 2023 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA).

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board