on the way to the development of soft microdites for human-environment interaction

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  • From enormous objects like stars, planets, and galaxies to the realm of tiny ones like insects, bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic items, humans have always been captivated by different scales. Although the tiny world can be seen and observed with a microscope, direct interaction is still challenging.

Technology for human-robot interaction, however, might change that. Microrobots, for instance, can interact with their surroundings on a much smaller scale than humans can. Microsensors have been utilized to measure the forces that insects apply while they move and fly. The majority of research to date, meanwhile, have not directly examined interactions between insects and microsensors, focusing instead mainly on assessing insect behavior.

With this in mind, researchers at Japan’s Ritsumeikan University have developed a soft micro-robotic finger that allows for more direct interaction with the micro-world. Published in Scientific Reports on October 10. “By using flexible liquid metal strain sensors, tactile microfingers are achieved. Soft pneumatic balloon actuators act as artificial muscles, allowing sensor control and finger-like movements.

Robotic Gloves.” allows a human user to directly control the microfingers. This type of system allows safe interaction with insects and other small objects,” explains Professor Konishi.

The measured reaction force on the legs of the pill bug was about 10 mN (millinewtons), which was consistent with previously estimated values. Although this is a representative study and a proof of concept, the results show promise for direct human interaction with the microworld. Furthermore, it can be applied to Augmented Reality (AR) technology. With microsensory tools such as robotized gloves and microfingers, many AR technologies for human-environment interaction can be realized at the microscale.

The research team used a newly developed microrobotic setup to study the reaction force of pill bugs as a representative sample of insects. We fixed the beetle with a sucker and applied force with a micro finger to measure the reaction force of the beetle’s leg.

“Using strain-sensitive microfingers, we were able to directly measure the pushing motion and force of the legs and torso of the pill bug, which was not possible before! We expect that this will lead to further technological development of insect interactions, and lead to much smaller-scale human-environment interactions,” said Professor Konishi.

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