Despite the widespread use of sensors in engineering systems like robots and automation systems, the common paradigm is to have fixed sensor morphology tailored to fulfill a specific application. On the other hand, robotic systems are expected to operate in ever more uncertain environments. In order to cope with the challenge, it is worthy of note that biological systems show the importance of suitable sensor morphology and active sensing capability to handle different kinds of sensing tasks with particular requirements.
This paper presents a robotics active sensing system which is able to adjust its sensor morphology in situ in order to sense different physical quantities with desirable sensing characteristics. The approach taken is to use thermoplastic adhesive material, i.e. Hot Melt Adhesive (HMA). It will be shown that the thermoplastic and thermoadhesive nature of HMA enables the system to repeatedly fabricate, attach and detach mechanical structures with a variety of shape and size to the robot end effector for sensing purposes. Via active sensing capability, the robotic system utilizes the structure to physically probe an unknown target object with suitable motion and transduce the arising physical stimuli into information usable by a camera as its only built-in sensor.
The efficacy of the proposed system is verified based on two results. Firstly, it is confirmed that suitable sensor morphology and active sensing capability enables the system to sense different physical quantities, i.e. softness and temperature, with desirable sensing characteristics. Secondly, given tasks of discriminating two visually indistinguishable objects with respect to softness and temperature, it is confirmed that the proposed robotic system is able to autonomously accomplish them. The way the results motivate new research directions which focus on in situ adjustment of sensor morphology will also be discussed.