A newsletter for alumni, students, and friends of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Faculty Highlight

Giving Robots Some Senses

Nicola J. Ferrier

Nicola J. Ferrier
(28K JPG)

Before robots can make the step from fiction to tireless factory worker or household help, they have to be able to sense their environment and respond to it. Assistant Professor Nicola J. Ferrier's robot research group is working on that problem now, figuring out how to design a robot control system to manage sensory information so that it will look and move successfully to find and manipulate an object.

Ferrier says, "Eighty to 90 percent of the robots in use do not come into contact with their workpiece. They are spray painters, arc welders and spot welders." And in those cases, the objects worked on by robots have to be placed in the same place every time so that the robot can find the work.

By incorporating force and shape sensors embedded within deformable robotic fingertips, Ferrier has developed a method of sensing an object's shape and the distribution of forces encountered when the fingers contact the object. Both pieces of information are used in manipulation of the object, allowing a robotic hand to operate with more dexterity.

With a more general purpose robotic hand, you won't need a specialized tool and a tool changer for every task, Ferrier says. Combining the force and shape system with a visual sensory system will even give the robot eye/hand coordination. Ferrier's group is looking at how to make all this sensory data work together.

For more information about Ferrier's research, you may contact her at her e-mail address:

ME Newsletter is a periodic publication of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Mechanical Engineering. Correspondence should be sent to the address below.

ME Newsletter
Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1513 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706-1572

      Editor: Gail Gawenda

Designer: Lynda Litzkow

Last Modified: Monday, 15-Feb-1999 12:00:00 CST

DECEMBER 1998 Contents