Robot Can Read Brail x2 Faster than Humans

A robotic sensor that uses artificial intelligence techniques has been built by researchers, and it can read braille at a speed that is about twice as fast as the majority of human readers.

Researchers have developed a robotic sensor that incorporates artificial intelligence techniques to read braille at speeds roughly double that of most human readers. Image Credit: University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge research team trained a robotic sensor to rapidly glide over braille text lines using machine learning methods. At 315 words per minute, the robot could read the braille with over 90% accuracy.

Although the robot braille reader was not designed as an assistive device, the researchers believe the great sensitivity necessary to read braille makes it an appropriate test for the creation of robot hands or prosthetics with human-like sensitivity. The findings are published in the journal IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.

Human fingers are extraordinarily sensitive, allowing us to absorb information about our surroundings. Fingers can sense minute changes in the texture of a substance or inform how much force to apply while grabbing an object, such as picking up an egg without shattering it or a bowling ball without losing it.

Reproducing that degree of sensitivity in a robotic hand while being energy efficient is a significant engineering problem. In Professor Fumiya Iida’s group at Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, researchers are working on answers to these and other skills that humans find simple but tough for robots.

The softness of human fingertips is one of the reasons we’re able to grip things with the right amount of pressure. For robotics, softness is a useful characteristic, but you also need lots of sensor information, and it is tricky to have both at once, especially when dealing with flexible or deformable surfaces.

Parth Potdar, Study First Author and Undergraduate Student, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge

Braille is an excellent test for a robot ‘fingertip’ since the dots in each representative letter pattern are so close together. The researchers employed an off-the-shelf sensor to create a robotic braille reader that more closely mimics human reading behavior.

There are existing robotic braille readers, but they only read one letter at a time, which is not how humans read. Existing robotic braille readers work in a static way: they touch one letter pattern, read it, pull up from the surface, move over, lower onto the next letter pattern, and so on. We want something that’s more realistic and far more efficient.

David Hardman, Study Co-Author, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge

The robotic sensor employed by the researchers features a camera at its “fingertip” and reads by combining data from sensors and the camera.

Potdar added, “This is a hard problem for roboticists as there is a lot of image processing that needs to be done to remove motion blur, which is time and energy-consuming.

The group used machine learning techniques to enable the robotic reader to “deblur” the images before the sensor attempts to identify the letters. An array of crisp braille pictures with artificial blur added served as the training set for the algorithm. A computer vision model was utilized to identify and categorize each character once the algorithm had trained to deblur the letters.

The researchers tested their reader by swiftly sliding it over rows of braille characters once the algorithms were implemented. The robotic braille reader was twice as quick and roughly as accurate as a human reader, able to read 315 words per minute with 87% accuracy.

Hardman further added, “Considering that we used fake blur the train the algorithm, it was surprising how accurate it was at reading braille. We found a nice trade-off between speed and accuracy, which is also the case with human readers.

Braille reading speed is a great way to measure the dynamic performance of tactile sensing systems, so our findings could be applicable beyond braille, for applications like detecting surface textures or slippage in robotic manipulation,” stated Potdar.

The technology will eventually be scaled down to the size of a humanoid hand or skin, the researchers hope. Part of the research was funded by the Samsung Global Research Outreach Initiative.

Can robots read braille?

Video Credit: University of Cambridge

Journal Reference:

Potdar, P., et. al. (2024) High-Speed Tactile Braille Reading via Biomimetic Sliding Interactions. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters. doi:10.1109/LRA.2024.3356978

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