Tactile sensing is an important perception mode for robots, but the existing tactile technologies have multiple limitations. What kind of tactile information robots need, and how to use the information, remain open questions. We believe a soft sensor surface and high-resolution sensing of geometry should be important components of a competent tactile sensor. In this paper, we discuss the development of a vision-based optical tactile sensor, GelSight. Unlike the traditional tactile sensors which measure contact force, GelSight basically measures geometry, with very high spatial resolution. The sensor has a contact surface of soft elastomer, and it directly measures its deformation, both vertical and lateral, which corresponds to the exact object shape and the tension on the contact surface. The contact force, and slip can be inferred from the sensor’s deformation as well. Particularly, we focus on the hardware and software that support GelSight’s application on robot hands. This paper reviews the development of GelSight, with the emphasis in the sensing principle and sensor design. We introduce the design of the sensor’s optical system, the algorithm for shape, force and slip measurement, and the hardware designs and fabrication of different sensor versions. We also show the experimental evaluation on the GelSight’s performance on geometry and force measurement. With the high-resolution measurement of shape and contact force, the sensor has successfully assisted multiple robotic tasks, including material perception or recognition and in-hand localization for robot manipulation.
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