Sony’s Refined Robot Manipulator Raises a Tech Hobby to the Level of Home Appliance

Sony has been working around the clock to make its mark yet again on the consumer tech world, and this year’s offerings at the Technology Day event show it. The electronics company unveiled an exciting virtual headset that seems poised to set the standard for this emerging entertainment niche. This is certain to be a commercial success, but even more interesting is its advanced dual manipulator robot.

The OLED display features an internal screen with 4 thousand pixels per square inch for a level of resolution that is simply off the charts. That’s to be expected in time as technology advances, but 4K resolution per square inch is a leap forward that couldn’t have been expected to arise until around the end of the decade. The company is planning to release it with its PlayStation VR 2 system. The headset looks much more compact than you would expect, and the level of realism frankly surpasses the ability of the human eye to appreciate it, with more than 4,000 pixels for each eye. The prototype is surprisingly small and future refinements can be expected to make it a delight to handle.

While the PSVR2 virtual reality headset is likely to impress the gaming community, the company’s new robotic grabber is poised to elevate what has been a fringe tech hobby to the level of a home appliance, particularly in the kitchen or possibly the home office.

Historically, robotic grabbers have been clunky, obtuse, and require hours of coding to get them to do anything terribly interesting. Functional robotic manipulators have largely been relegated to production floors in high-tech factories. But Sony has developed a manipulator that is not only highly capable but also able to handle extremely delicate tasks.

The prototype on display for Technology Day features a knobby-looking grip on the inside of its mechanical claw. But this isn’t just for traction, it’s a very delicate sensor that allows the robot to determine exactly how much pressure it should exert so as not to crush or drop what it’s holding.

During an exhibition, the manipulator was tasked with grabbing and moving a delicate flower and placing it in a vase. A display shows a running graph of the pressure being exerted and as the gripper closed on the bud, the line rapidly elevated and remained level until the gripper released the rose.

The idea was to replicate the delicacy and precision of the human hand. The team explains that we not only have very high nerve density in our fingers and hands but our hands are formed with fatty pads on the inside of the fingers and palm that help us to detect the amount of pressure we are exerting. The “knobs” on the gripper of the manipulator robot are deformed when the pressure of holding an object is exerted on them. The CPU measures the level to which these gripper knobs are deformed and uses that information to tell the arm how much pressure it needs to exert.

In short, it can pick up and move things like eggs, a wine glass, vegetables, and so on. That all by itself is extraordinary. But the manipulator has a couple more tricks up its sleeve. For a start, it’s a two-arm system, rather than a single arm. What’s most impressive is the ability of the robot to handle more complex tasks than even industrial-grade manipulators.

This system could earn a place on kitchen counters over the next decade. A chef would teach the robot to perform a task, and after having done so, could just set ingredients in given positions and allow the robot to do the rest.

Perhaps in time, the company will find a way to combine their advanced VR sets with the ambidextrous grabber robot to enable people to collaborate on a project together in real-time.




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