If you're anything like me, anyway. This robot, presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, was designed to have great dexterity. To help the robot have a better sense of touch, researchers programmed it to rely on killer eyesight instead of tactile sensors.
The robot's finger pad is made of a sensor the researchers call GelSight. A piece of rubber, coated with metallic paint, presses up against the object being grasped. The four edges of the sensor light up in four different colors, which bounce off the rubber when an object deforms it. A camera captures the resulting light, and analyzes the color spectrum to know the exact shape of the object against the rubber pad.
The result, the engineers report, is a robot 100 times more sensitive than a human finger.
The super-accurate USB-inserting skills seen above (the robot got the plug in 34 out of 36 times) didn't actually involve any rotating: The researchers hung the plug in the correct orientation, so the robot just had to lower it into its outlet.
But the researchers told Discover Magazine that this would actually be much easier than the task of finding the outlet in the first place. The outlet only tolerated about a millimeter of error, so the robot hand had to be incredibly precise. In tests, the robot was only given a GelSight sensor on one finger pad. But with one on each side, it would have no trouble feeling the embossed symbols that distinguish a USB cord -- and rotating as needed.
Realistically, the researchers aren't going to explore the possibility of creating personal USB pluggers for all of us. The robot's ability to plug with accuracy will probably lend itself to more practical applications, such as lining up and inserting screws and bolts.