Human-robot interaction technology has contributed to improving the sociality of humanoid robots. At scales far from human scales, a microrobot can interact with an environment in a small world. Microsensors have been applied to measure forces exerted by insects during activities such as flight or walking. Meanwhile, most previous works focused on measuring insect behavior rather than direct insect-microsensor interaction.
Now, researchers at Japan’s Ritsumeikan University have developed a soft micro-robotic finger that allows humans to interact directly with insects. This could enable human-environment interaction at previously inaccessible scales.
The flat rectangular devices measure 12 mm long, 3 mm wide, and 490 μm (micrometers) thick. These soft microfingers integrated with artificial muscle actuators and tactile sensors, can move and touch an insect.
Using their newly developed microrobot setup, the research team investigated the reaction force of a pill bug as a representative sample of an insect. The pill bug was fixed in place using a suction tool, and the microfinger was used to apply a force and measure the reaction force of the bug’s legs.
The measured reaction force from the legs of a pill bug was less than 10 mN (millinewtons), which agreed with previously estimated values. This result shows great promise towards realizing direct human interactions with microworld.
The new technology can have applications even in augmented reality (AR) technology. Using robotized gloves and micro-sensing tools such as the microfinger, many AR technologies concerning human-environment interactions on the microscale can be realized.
“With our strain-sensing microfinger, we were able to directly measure the pushing motion and force of the legs and torso of a pill bug – something that has been impossible to achieve previously! We anticipate that our results will lead to further technological development for microfinger-insect interactions, leading to human-environment interactions at much smaller scales,” remarks Professor Satoshi Konishi, lead author of the study.
- Satoshi Konishi, Fuminari Mori, Yugo Kakehi, Ayano Shimizu, Fumiya Sano, and Kodai Koyanagi. Active tactile sensing of small insect force by a soft microfinger toward microfinger-insect interactions. Scientific Reports 12, 16963 (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-21188-2