Research

Progress in robotics and neuroscience is now sufficiently advanced that their main research problems overlap. Our lab facilitates knowledge transfer between engineering and biology by actively researching both fields.

The Tactile Robotics group has three main themes: (i) development and fabrication of novel 3D-printed tactile sensors and hands; (ii) algorithms for active perception, exploration and manipulation with these tactile robots; (iii) interpretation and inspiration of these algorithms and tactile hardware in terms of the computational neuroscience of perception and action.

Biomimetic 3D-printed tactile sensors and hands

Advances in multi-material 3D-printing mean enable the design and fabrication of state-of-the-art biomimetic tactile robot sensors and hands. Our lab's interests primarily focus around an optical biomimetic tactile sensor (the TacTip) and its integration into 3D-printed multi-fingered robotic grippers and hands.

1) Design, fabrication and open-sourcing of 3D-printed tactile fingertips based on the mechanics of human skin.

2) Integration of 3D-printed tactile fingertips with robotic hands.

3) Application of tactile robots to examine the mechanisms for biological perception.

Selected publications
B. Ward-Cherrier et al. The TacTip family: Soft optical tactile sensors with 3D-printed biomimetic morphologies. Soft Robotics, 2018
J. James et al. Catch Me If You Can: Slip detection with a multi-fingered tactile hand. Submitted to: IEEE RA-L and ICRA 2019
N. Pestell et al. A sense of touch for the Shadow Modular Grasper. Submitted to: IEEE RA-L & ICRA 2019
N. Lepora, M. Pearson, L. Cramphorn. TacWhiskers: Biomimetic optical tactile whiskered robots. IROS 2018
N. Pestell et al. Dual-modal tactile perception and exploration. IEEE RA-L & ICRA 2018
B. Ward-Cherrier, N. Rojas, N. Lepora. Model-free precise in-hand manipulation with a 3d-printed tactile gripper. IEEE RA-L & ICRA 2017
L. Cramphorn, B. Ward-Cherrier, N. Lepora. A biomimetic fingerprint improves spatial tactile perception. IEEE RA-L, 2017
B. Ward-Cherrier et al. Tactile manipulation with a TacThumb integrated on the Open-Hand M2 Gripper. IEEE RA-L, 2016
N. Lepora, B. Ward-Cherrier. Tactile quality control with biomimetic active touch. IEEE RA-L & ICRA, 2016
N. Lepora, B. Ward-Cherrier. Superresolution with an optical tactile sensor. IROS, 2015

Intelligent tactile perception and exploration

The development of robust and accurate artificial touch is needed for autonomous robotic systems to interact physically with complex environments, underlying the future robotization of broad areas of manufacturing, food production, healthcare and assisted living. My main interests and experience include:

1) Development of methods for active touch that combines tactile perception and control.

2) Application of statistical machine learning and artificial intelligence to artificial tactile perception and exploration.

3) Use of superresolution methods to attain hyperacuity in artificial tactile sensing.

Selected publications
N. Lepora et al. From pixels to percepts: Highly robust perception and exploration using deep learning and an optical biomimetic tactile sensor. Submitted to: IEEE RA-L & ICRA, 2019
K. Aquilina, D. Barton, N. Lepora. Continuous contact sensing with a soft biomimetic tactile sensor. Submitted to: IEEE RA-L & ICRA 2019
J. James, N. Pestell, N. Lepora. Slip detection with a biomimetic tactile sensor. IEEE RA-L & IROS 2018
K. Aquilina, D. Barton, N. Lepora. Principle components of touch. ICRA, 2018
L. Cramphorn, J. Lloyd, N. Lepora. Voronoi Features for Tactile Sensing: Direct Inference of Pressure, Shear, and Contact Locations. ICRA, 2018
N. Lepora, K. Aquilina, L. Cramphorn. Exploratory tactile servoing with active touch. IEEE Robotics & Automation Letters, 2017
B. Ward-Cherrier, L. Cramphorn, N. Lepora. Exploiting sensor symmetry for generalized tactile perception in biomimetic touch. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, 2017.
C. Yang, N. Lepora. Object exploration using vision and active touch. IROS 2017.
N. Lepora. Biomimetic Active touch with tactile fingertips and whiskers. IEEE Transactions on Haptics, 2016.
U. Martinez-Hernandez et al. Active sensorimotor control for tactile exploration. Robotics and Autonomous Systems, 2016.
N. Lepora et al. Tactile superresolution and biomimetic hyperacuity. IEEE Transactions on Robotics, 2015.
N. Lepora et al. Active Bayesian perception for simultaneous object localization and identification. Robotics: Science and Systems, 2013.
N. Lepora et al. Optimal decision-making in mammals: Insights from a robot study. Royal Society Interface, 2012.

Computational neuroscience of perception and action

Our research group is interested in how human and animal perception relates to accounts of decision making from statistics/mathematics, neuroscience, psychology and philosophy. This includes:

1) Understanding perception from the perspective that our brain is embodied in our body, and thus that perceptual choice must encompass also the effect of moving to make a decision.

2) Understanding how sensory and motor systems interrelate in perceptual decision making. This includes functional models of brain areas including the cortico-basal ganglia system and the cerebellum.

Selected publications
N. Lepora. Threshold Learning for Optimal Decision making. NIPS, 2016.
N. Lepora, G. Pezzulo. Embodied choice: How action influences perceptual decision making. PLoS Computational Biology, 2015.
N. Lepora, K. Gurney. The basal ganglia optimize decision making over general perceptual hypotheses. Neural Computation, 2012.
N. Lepora et al. Optimal decision-making in mammals: Insights from a robot study. Royal Society Interface, 2012.
N. Lepora et al. Sensory prediction or motor control? Application of Marr-Albus type models of cerebellar function to classical conditioning. Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, 2010.

Biomimetics

Biomimetics forms the foundation for my research program on hardware for tactile sensing and algorithms for perception and control. I am also interested in the field and methodology as a whole, and have authored a review and co-edited several proceedings.

Selected publications
T. Prescott, N. Lepora and P. Verschure (Editors). Living Machines: A handbook of research in biomimetics. Oxford University Press, 2018
N. Lepora, P. Verschure, T. Prescott. A roadmap for Living Machines research. In: Living machines: A handbook of research in biomimetics and biohybrid systems, Chapter 3: 26-48, Oxford University Press, 2018
N. Lepora et al. The state of the art in biomimetics. Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, 2013
Lead or co-editor for conference proceedings for Biomimetic & Biohybrid Systems (2012-2016)