Punyo-1: Soft tactile-sensing upper-body robot for large object manipulation and pHRI

The manipulation of large objects and safe operation in the vicinity of humans are key capabilities of a general purpose domestic robotic assistant. We present the design of a soft, tactile-sensing humanoid upper-body robot and demonstrate whole-body rich-contact manipulation strategies…

The manipulation of large objects and safe operation in the vicinity of humans are key capabilities of a general purpose domestic robotic assistant. We present the design of a soft, tactile-sensing humanoid upper-body robot and demonstrate whole-body rich-contact manipulation strategies for handling large objects. We demonstrate our hardware design philosophy for outfitting off-the-shelf hard robot arms and other components with soft tactile-sensing modules, including: (i) low-cost, cut-resistant, contact pressure localizing coverings for the arms, (ii) paws based on TRI’s Soft-bubble sensors for the end effectors, and (iii) compliant force/geometry sensors for the coarse geometry sensing chest. We leverage the mechanical intelligence and tactile sensing of these modules to develop and demonstrate motion primitives for whole-body grasping. We evaluate the hardware’s effectiveness in achieving grasps of varying strengths over a variety of large domestic objects. Our results demonstrate the importance of exploiting softness and tactile sensing in contact-rich manipulation strategies, as well as a path forward for whole-body force-controlled interactions with the world.