Called TakkTile, the device takes a tiny barometer and adds a layer of vacuum sealed rubber. The result, when added to a mechanical hand, is a robot that knows what it's touching. According to the developer, it can pick up a balloon without popping it. It can pick up a key and use it to unlock a door.
"Despite decades of research, tactile sensing hasn't moved into general use because it's been expensive and fragile," said Leif Jentoft, a graduate student at SEAS. "TakkTile changes that because it's based on much simpler and cheaper fabrication methods."
Making the device relies on standard pcb fabrication, along with access to a vacuum chamber. The barometers, meanwhile, are available cheaply because they are widely used in mobile phones and GPS units that can sense altitude.
Beyond robotics, Jentoft suggests that TakkTile could be used in a range of electronic products, including medical devices.