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Touchibo: Multimodal Texture-Changing Robotic Platform for Shared Human Experiences

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Touchibo is a modular robotic platform for enriching interpersonal communication in human-robot group activities, suitable for children with mixed visual abilities. Touchibo incorporates several modalities, including dynamic textures, scent, audio, and light. Two prototypes are demonstrated for supporting storytelling activities and mediating group conversations between children with and without visual impairment. Our goal is to provide an inclusive platform for children to interact with each other, perceive their emotions, and become more aware of how they impact others.

This work presents Touchibo, a robotic platform that enriches children’s interactions by generating physical sensations using texture-changing skins, scents, and lights. Similar to how humans convey their emotions in various ways including gestures, heartbeat, and sweat, robots could also display emotions more diversely through physical expressions, including auditory (hearing), olfactory (scent), and tactile (touch). In this way, robots also become more accessible and easily perceived by participants of different ages or sensory abilities, especially in mixed-visual ability groups where non-visual feedback is of utmost importance.

We integrated a dynamic texture-changing skin to enrich the tactile sensation and expressiveness of the robot. Each soft-skin module comprises a silicone body and air cavity that can be pneumatically controlled to generate surface texture changes. We designed five bio-inspired texture shapes (rows 1, and 2 in the figure): Wrinkles generate haptic tension when vacuumed expressing confusion and concentration. Goosebumps express excitement, while spikes display anger and defense with sharp haptic tips. Stomata simulates the breathing of the robot by opening and closing the "pores". Tentacles inspired by sea anemones express a sense of liveliness in a robot. A network of air chambers connects individual groups of textures for separate control. The textures can be uniformly connected and actuated together or separately controlled via multiple channels. Figure (row 3) presents 3-channel goosebumps achieving different surface dynamics with independent control. To control dynamic texture movements, we used a FlowIO device. The device allows for independent control of five channels to perform inflation, deflation, vacuum, and hold with pressure sensing as control feedback to achieve pre-calibrated deformation. By dynamically controlling the pressure, flow rate, and frequency, we can achieve different texture dynamics (Figure row 4).

Touchibo Turtle is a storyteller that enacts different physical sensations of characters such as happiness, sadness, fear, or anger. Its size allows four children’s hands to physically and socially explore its nine touch zones. The robot is hidden inside a cave made of fabric with sleeves, so children cannot have visual access to the robot and focus their attention on other senses.

Touchibo Tree is a conversation companion that responds to group speech with textures and lights. It becomes afraid of aggressive conversations and bored of long monologues so that children can learn the impact of their behaviors on others through the robot’s behavior.


Isabel Neto, Yuhan Hu, Jin Ryu, Ali Shtarbanov, Hugo Nicolau, Ana Paiva, and Guy Hofman


and more to come...

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