Behold A Microscope That Sees By Squashing Things Into It

“Look with your eyes, not your hands” is something many of us have heard while growing up, but that doesn’t apply to the touch-sensitive microscope [Steve Mould] got to play with.

Gel pad removed, exposing lens and multi-directional lighting.

The wand-like device is made by Gelsight, and instead of an optical lens like a normal microscope, it sports a gel pad on the sensing end. By squashing an object into the gel, the device is able to carefully illuminate and image the impression created. By taking multiple images lit from different angles, a lot of information can be extracted.

The result is a high-resolution magnification — albeit a monochromatic one — that conveys depth extremely well. It’s pretty neat clearly seeing tiny specks of dust or lint present on surfaces when [Steve] demonstrates imaging things like coin cells.

Many a hacker knows that the devil is in the details when it comes to executing an idea. Even so, the basic principles of the Gelsight seem simple enough and possibly within the realm of inspired DIY in the same way that we saw a CNC gantry and USB microscope repurposed as an optical comparator.

Watch the Gelsight in action in the video below, embedded below the page break.

18 thoughts on “Behold A Microscope That Sees By Squashing Things Into It

      1. @Piecutter said: “That being said, looks like it could be used as an extremely accurate fingerprint reader.”

        …looks like it could be used as an extremely accurate fingerprint DUPLICATOR.

        1. No, it still only reads. Didn’t watch the video, but I’m sure the device doesn’t slide a finger out it’s backside with said finger print attached. Your comment comes across as either shady or paranoid.

    1. I find it interesting that the gel doesn’t smooth out contours. It must be incredibly thin and tear resistant, else be very good at linearly transmitting force in one direction, like a pin board. It’s an interesting sort of device, in theory, there’s not much to it, but I’d hazard a guess, it’s probably a little over my budget.

  1. Having used a lot of precision microscopes, the largest benefit to this concept would be the ability to always perfectly focus and white balance the image, since the background/lighting conditions never change. This is actually a great idea, given that accuracy of the object is maintained.

      1. I think that’s quite high on their use case. Hopefully your lab can get their hands on a practical model soon for the sake of your sanity, haha. Been dealing with white paint on white primer all day so I can understand a bit of the frustration of low contrast media

  2. Imagine having two of these, the size of a table top, you place an object on one of them and put the other on top. Perhaps a fold down lid like a flat bed scanner. It makes a top and bottom mesh and stitches them together. You can then send it to a 3d printer and get a copy of it.

  3. Facebook Research designed a simplified version of this and open sourced it:

    Their paper also includes details of how they made their gel pad (use an airbrush to apply a thin layer of white silicone to a mold, then add a base layer of Smooth-On Solaris, finally glue the cured pad to an acrylic window with Smooth-On Sil-Poxy.)

    Gelsight also sells a version of the Digit and replacement pads themselves.

  4. The ultra-soft elastomer can also be a transparent cosmetic pad (silicon sponge, silisponge, etc…). A simple smartphone provides a perfectly adapted camera. All that is left to do is to design a small 3D printed box to install the LEDs, or perhaps, even simpler, to capture the light from the flashlight, using the transparent elastomer as a light guide. A nice DIY project!

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