Tactile sensing is one problem that the robotics industry hasn’t been able to crack, but Facebook aims to solve this issue with a thin synthetic skin for machines called ReSkin that replicates human-level touch in the physical world. The company has been dabbling with advanced AI-driven robots for a while. Last year, Facebook open-sourced its work on DIGIT, a compact tactile sensor designed to be mounted on multi-fingered robotic hands. Tactile sensing is of extreme importance for helping robotic parts to execute actions with nearly the same level of finesse as human limbs and solving the ‘sensory deficit’ problem.
That is where ReSkin is trying to fill the innovation gap. The Facebook AI division of Meta — formerly known as Facebook — has created a cheap and durable synthetic skin that’s just 2-3 mm thick and good enough for executing over 50,000 physical interactions. The synthetic skin is made out of a deformable elastomer that has been embedded with magnetic particles. The magnetic signals generated by these particles are recorded and then converted to useful data, such as the point of contact and the amount of force applied. The company claims that ReSkin can detect a force of as little magnitude as 0.1 newton on objects that are as thin as 1mm across. It can be of special utility for agencies like NASA which is currently testing semi-autonomous robots to perform a wide range of tasks in space.
One of the biggest advantages of ReSkin is its low price. Meta’s Facebook AI division claims that it costs merely $6 to produce 100 ReSkin sheets and that cost can be lowered further with mass production. Once a layer wears out, it can be stripped with ease and replaced with a new one. It can also be applied over robotic arms as well as human arms while performing day-to-day tasks to collect critical data for training AI models. ReSkin is said to serve as an excellent alternative to current sensors that are significantly more expensive, collect less amount of tactile information, and can’t be applied on all mechanical parts. It could potentially be of great value for products like Tesla Bot, providing Musk’s robot ever sees the light of the day.