In future, the robot could find its own way. A sensor will endow it with a sense of touch and help it to detect its undersea environment autonomously.
“One component in this tactile capability is a strain gauge,” says Marcus Maiwald…“If the robot encounters an obstacle,” he explains, “the strain gauge is distorted and the electrical resistance changes. The special feature of our strain gauge is that it is not glued but printed on – which means we can apply the sensor to curved surfaces of the robot.”
The sensor system on this robot is not all that complex; strain gauges are literally a dime a dozen (or less). But the configuration of the sensors reminds us of an animal body, and that’s what intrigues us. Since the strain sensors are printed along the surface of the robot in a continuous way (rather than being attached at some specific point), we’re reminded of how touch receptors are embedded throughout the skin, bringing to mind the phrase “sense of touch.” The Roomba has a mechanical sensor that is technically similar to the ones in this new robot, but we don’t talk about the Roomba having a sense of touch because the sensor is in a discrete place. To have a sense of touch you need to be able to sense contact (almost) anywhere on the surface of the body.