Despite the fact that robots can complete a huge rundown of imperative activities, and their significance has increased during the pandemic, human-robot collaboration is as yet in its early stages.

Considering this issue, researchers from Cornell University developed a technique for soft robots to identify human touch by analyzing a user’s shadows through a camera.

The system, called — ShadowSense, uses an off-the-shelf USB camera to capture shadow movements produced by hand gestures on a robot’s skin.

Algorithms then analyze the movements to recognize various kinds of physical interactions, including punches, hugs, and pats.

Guy Hoffman, study lead and author of a paper detailing the technology, explains that the method allows for interaction with robots, without the need for large, expensive sensor arrays.

“Touch is such an important mode of communication for most organisms, but it has been virtually absent from human-robot interaction. One of the reasons is that full-body touch used to require a massive number of sensors, and was therefore not practical to implement,” Hoffman said. “This research offers a low-cost alternative.”

To test their system, the scientists utilized an inflatable robot with a camera under its skin. They trained their physical interaction classification algorithms using shadow images of six separate gestures: palm touching, hugging, pinching, touching with two hands, pointing, & not touching.

The soft robot was able to successfully recognize the various gestures with 87.5 – 96% accuracy, though lighting conditions did have an effect on the result.

Hoffman also says the method of interaction through shadows could also allow for privacy-friendly soft robots.

“If the robot can only see you in the form of your shadow, it can detect what you’re doing without taking high fidelity images of your appearance,” Hoffman said in a press release. “That gives you a physical filter and protection, and provides psychological comfort.”

The scientists say their innovation could be used by mobile guide robots that could respond to taps and pokes from nearby humans, as well as home droids that provide company to the elderly or carry out a set of predetermined tasks.

With digital privacy issues arising around the world, it’s encouraging to see technologies with an in-built function that keeps firms from collecting 3rd party data from our homes.

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