Researchers now have the ability to do machine learning with real-time information that tells how much force is being applied.

“So when we try to grasp an object or manipulate an object, we can actually make use of those contact forces, similar to how human muscles sense forces such as how heavy something is,” says Whitney.

Machine learning is an active area of research among Northeastern faculty, Whitney says. He is working with Hanu Singh, an electrical and computer engineering professor, and Robert Platt, associate professor of computer science in the Khoury College of Computer Sciences, on a National Science Foundation project involving lightweight robots that are better designed for direct, intentional contact with an object.

Whitney is also collaborating with Taskin Padir, associate professor of electrical and computer Engineering, to study the potential for robots that are controlled remotely to be used to physically interact with friends and family, serving as a mechanical stand-in. The technology could allow people to hug a loved one in quarantine as one example of its potential, Whitney says.

The project has been entered into a global competition to create an avatar system that can transport human presence to a remote location in real time. The grand prize is $10 million.


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