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Chemical Sensing at the Robot Fingertips: Toward Automated Taste Discrimination in Food Samples

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posted on 18.09.2018 by Bianca Ciui, Aida Martin, Rupesh K. Mishra, Tatsuo Nakagawa, Thomas J. Dawkins, Mengjia Lyu, Cecilia Cristea, Robert Sandulescu, Joseph Wang
The development of robotic sensors that mimic the human sensing capabilities is critical for the interaction and cognitive abilities of modern robots. Though robotic skin with embedded pressure or temperature sensors has received recent attention, robotic chemical sensors have long been unnoticed due to the challenges associated with realizing chemical sensing modalities on robotic platforms. For realizing such chemically sensitive robotic skin, we exploit here the recent advances in wearable chemical sensor technology and flexible electronics, and describe chemical sensing robotic fingers for rapid screening of food flavors and additives. The stretchable taste-sensing finger electrochemical devices are printed on the robotic glove, which simulates the soft skin, and are integrated with a wireless electronic board for real-time data transmission. The printed middle, index, and ring robotic fingers allow accurate discrimination between sweetness, sourness, and spiciness, via direct electrochemical detection of glucose, ascorbic acid, and capsaicin. The sweet-sensing ability has been coupled with a caffeine-sensing robotic finger for rapid screening of the presence of sugar and caffeine in common beverages. The “sense of taste” chemically sensitive robotic technology thus enables accurate discrimination between different flavors, as was illustrated in numerous tests involving a wide range of liquid and solid food samples. Such realization of advanced wearable taste-sensing systems at the robot fingertips should pave the way to automated chemical sensing machinery, facilitating robotic decision for practical food assistance applications, with broad implications to a wide range of robotic sensing applications.