Sensors vs. Sensing

Sensors are a lot of the big news for robotics innovation these days. Rexroth’s new SCD Sensor, for example, can measure temperature, acceleration, magnetic field/current, and lighting, right out of the box.

SCD stands for “Sense Connect Detect.” This is a game-changer because the SCD Sensor can measure and report on multiple factors at the same time. MEMS (micro-electromechanical system) sensors like this can therefore measure factors that interact. For example, by measuring temperature and acceleration together, the sensor can identify a component that is overheating because of excessive vibration.

This ability can let you predict maintenance needs, or even avoid them.

But it’s not a sense.

What’s the difference between a sense and a sensor?

A sensor detects and measures things. A sense feels, sees, smells, hears, or tastes things. Robots are currently best with seeing and hearing. They’re not very good at smelling, tasting, or feeling things. Rexroth has helped to create robots that can sense when something squishy — like a human — has touched them, or even that a person is close enough to be in danger. The robot can stop instantly, saving the human coworker from injury or even death.

This is awesome, of course, but it’s not the same as feeling. The robots can’t feel the edges of an object and adjust their “hands” to pick it up safely.

New research is making it possible for robots to “feel” things with sight and hearing, which are stronger senses for robots.

Robots have been built with multiple electrodes that can say whether the robot is making contact with something in many places. That provides more information. But the new research uses multiple lights and photodiodes. The robot gets information on the amount of light being received at each point. This is a more exact way to determine exactly where it is touching or being touched. It can determine the amount of resistance, as well as the size and shape of an object.

Add machine learning, and this new technology could make it possible for a robot to learn how to pick up an object safely without needing prior knowledge and programming about the object. This could make a robot that can sort fruit or pack boxes with e-commerce orders.

In the meantime, if you need Rexroth support or service, call us right away. We can help with current and legacy components.

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