A Soft Thumb-Sized Vision-Based Touch Sensor

A team from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany have developed a novel thumb-shaped touch sensor capable of resolving the force of a contact, as well as its direction, over the whole surface of the structure. Intended for dexterous manipulation systems, the system is constructed from easily sourced components, so should scale up to a larger assemblies without breaking the bank. The first step is to place a soft and compliant outer skin over a rigid metallic skeleton, which is then illuminated internally using structured light techniques. From there, machine learning can be used to estimate the shear and normal force components of the contact with the skin, over the entire surface, by observing how the internal envelope distorts the structured illumination.

The novelty here is the way they combine both photometric stereo processing with other structured light techniques, using only a single camera. The camera image is fed straight into a pre-trained machine learning system (details on this part of the system are unfortunately a bit scarce) which directly outputs an estimate of the contact shape and force distribution, with spatial accuracy reported good to less than 1 mm and force resolution down to 30 millinewtons. By directly estimating normal and shear force components the direction of the contact could be resolved to 5 degrees. The system is so sensitive that it can reportedly detect its own posture by observing the deformation of the skin due its own weight alone!

We’ve not covered all that many optical sensing projects, but here’s one using a linear CIS sensor to turn any TV into a touch screen. And whilst we’re talking about using cameras as sensors, here’s a neat way to use optical fibers to read multiple light-gates with a single camera and OpenCV.

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E-Book Reader Gets Page Turn Buttons, Is None The Wiser

Most e-book readers don’t have physical page turn buttons. Why? They just don’t. Virtual page turns are accomplished with a tap at a screen edge. Determined to reduce the awkwardness of one-handed use, [Sagar Vaze] modified a Kobo e-reader with two physical page turn buttons as a weekend project.

[Sagar] points out that since the underlying OS of the Kobo device is Linux, it is possible to fake touches to the screen (and therefore trigger page turns) by recording then replaying the appropriate input event. However, there was a more direct solution available to those willing to tamper slightly with the hardware. Touch sensing on the screen is done via an infrared break-beam system. Along two edges of the screen are IR emitters, and opposite the emitters are receivers. Broadly speaking, when a fingertip touches the display a minimum of two IR beams are broken, and the physical location of the fingertip can therefore be determined by analyzing exactly how the IR pattern has been changed.

To spoof page turns, [Sagar] briefly shorts two IR emitters: one on each axis. The sudden winking out of the IR is interpreted by the device as a crisp tap, and the device obediently turns the page. The only hitch is that both IR emitters must be shorted at the same time. If one is shorted before the other, the device ignores it. Double-pole switches would probably do the trick, but with the part bin coming up empty in that respect, [Sagar] instead used a few transistors to accomplish the same thing. A 3D printed enclosure rounds out the whole mod, and a brief video is embedded below.

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