New tactile sensor helps robots handle delicate objects

The Tactaxis compact tactile sensor. | Source: Melexis

Melexis announced Tactaxis, a fully integrated tactile sensor. The company said the sensor can provide robots with a sense of touch.

The Tactaxis sensor has multiple 3D magnetometer pixels that use the company’s Triaxis technology. It has a magnet embedded in an elastomer material. This combination gives the robot a soft feel, like human skin, and high sensitivity to small amounts of force. The sensor can detect weight changes down to a fraction of a gram, according to Melexis.

“Robots need the sense of touch to manipulate fragile objects. For such applications, we have developed a novel magnetic sensor to accurately measure the contact force – while being robust against disturbances,” Gael Close, global innovation manager at Melexis, said. “By exploiting the capabilities of our Triaxis magnetic sensor technology, we have made a significant step forward in robot tactile sensors, providing a rugged and competitive multi-axis sensing solution. We will now use the Tactaxis prototype as the foundation for further development work.”

Melexis’ sensor is embedded in an elastomer to mimic human touch. | Source: Melexis

Because Melexis took a gradiometric approach, the sensor isn’t affected by magnetic stray fields. This reduces possible measurement errors. The sensor is completely integrated, giving it an edge over optically-based tactile sensors.

Melexis has put its sensor, measuring in at just 5 mm x 5 mm x 5 mm, into a working prototype. According to the company, the sensor is able to withstand harsh weather conditions like temperature changes.

The company will face competition from companies like Meta, previously Facebook. Meta announced its tactile sensor DIGIT in November 2021. DIGIT is open-sourced and is advertised by the company as low-cost. Like Tactaxis, DIGIT is compact enough that it could be mounted on a multi-fingered hand.

Melexis was founded in Belgium over 30 years ago. It currently has 19 locations on three continents. The company specializes in micro-electronic solutions.

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