TacTip: 3D-printed tactile sensing

3D Printed Tactile Sensing

TacTip is a 3d-printed optical tactile sensor developed at Bristol Robotics Laboratory. It fulfils the need for a cheap, robust, versatile tactile sensor, mountable on industrial robot arms and aimed at integration into robot hands. The TacTip has been developed at BRL over a decade with many versions now available, driving novel research in Medical, Soft and Tactile Robotics.

Biomimetic design: The sensor is inspired by the structure of the human glabrous (hairless) skin on our hands. When the human fingertip makes contact with an object, deformation in the epidermal layers of the skin is detected and relayed by its mechanoreceptors. The TacTip device seeks to replicate this response by substituting papillae with internal pins on the inside of its skin.

Tactile Sensing

The pins deform when an object is contacted, and are then tracked with an internally mounted USB camera. The TacTip tip is made as one piece with multi-material 3D printing. The shape, layout and pattern of pins can be modified to tune the morphology to a desired application, whether it be as a stand-alone tactile sensor or an integrated part of a robot hand.

2007-2010: A tactile sensor based on biologically-inspired edge encoding (Chorley, Melhuish, Pipe, Rossiter)

The original development of the TacTip was by Craig Chorley as part of his PhD under the supervision of Chris Melhuish, Tony Pipe and Jonathan Rossiter. The original design principles were published in a conference on Advanced Robotics in 2009 and in Craig Chorley’s PhD thesis.

2010-2012: Remote lump sensing and edge following (Roke, Spiers, Assaf, Rossiter, Pipe, Melhuish)

The TacTip was then applied in two PhD projects: remote lump sensing and teleoperation (Calum Roke) and real-time tactile processing for edge following (Tareq Assaf).

2012-2013: TacTip – Tactile Fingertip for Robots (EU-funded, Echord: Winstone, Griffiths, Pipe, Melhuish, Rossiter)

Further development work was carried out by Benjamin Winstone and Gareth Griffiths under the EU-funded coordination action Echord, in partnership with the company Elumotion.

2015-2017: Tactile Superresolution Sensing (EPSRC-funded: Lepora, Ward-Cherrier)

Biomimetic active touch methods were applied to the TacTip, enabling the sensor to operate at superresolved sensitivity sufficient for deployment in application areas such as healthcare technologies and manufacturing the future.

2016: Open-source TacTip (Ward-Cherrier, Pestell, Giannaccini, Lepora)

Members of the Tactile Robotics team modified the TacTip design to fulfil the need to provide an open-source (3d-printed) robust, versatile tactile sensor for the robotics community. The new designs were recognized with first prize in an international competition on soft robotics.

Live projects

  • Tactile Robotics: Neuromorphic TacTip, Open-source TacTip
  • Medical Robotics: TacPillow
  • Soft Robotics: WormTip

Selected Publications (full list here)

C. Chorley, C. Melhuish, T. Pipe, and J. Rossiter, “Development of a tactile sensor based on biologically inspired edge encoding,” in Proc. Int. Conf. Adv. Robot., 2009, pp. 1–6.

Roke, C., Melhuish, C., Pipe, T., Drury, D. and Chorley, C., 2012. Lump localisation through a deformation-based tactile feedback system using a biologically inspired finger sensor. Robotics and Autonomous Systems, 60(11), pp.1442-1448.

Winstone, B., Griffiths, G., Melhuish, C., Pipe, T. and Rossiter, J., 2012, December. TACTIP—Tactile fingertip device, challenges in reduction of size to ready for robot hand integration. In Robotics and Biomimetics (ROBIO), 2012 IEEE International Conference on (pp. 160-166). IEEE.

T. Assaf, C. Roke, J. Rossiter, T. Pipe, and C. Melhuish, “Seeing by touch: Evaluation of a soft biologically-inspired artificial fingertip in real-time active touch,” Sensors, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 2561–2577, 2014.

N. Lepora and B. Ward-Cherrier. Superresolution with an optical tactile sensor. In: Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS): 2686-2691, IEEE/RSJ, 2015 B. Ward-Cherrier, L. Cramphorn and N. Lepora. Tactile manipulation with a TacThumb integrated on the Open-Hand M2 Gripper. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters 1(1):169-175, 2016.

N. Lepora. Biomimetic Active Touch with Tactile Fingertips and Whiskers. IEEE Transactions on Haptics 9(2): 170-183, 2016.

Back to Tactile Robotics

Theme Leader

Soft robotics team

  • Dr Nathan Lepora
  • Prof Jonathan Rossiter
  • Dr Maria-Elena Giannaccini
  • Dr Martin Pearson
  • Dr Benjamin Winstone
  • Ms Kirsty Aquilina
  • Mr Luke Cramphorn
  • Mr Nicholas Pestell
  • Ms Emma Roscow
  • Mr Ben Ward-Cherrier

Page last updated 16 November 2016