Prof gives robots a human
Allison Okamura wants to give robots the gift of touch. To
do this, Okamura, who has just joined Hopkins' Engineering
faculty, is setting up the school's first lab dedicated to
the cutting-edge field of robotic haptic exploration. "
'Haptic' means anything related to the sense of touch,"
Okamura says. "One part of my work involves robotic fingers.
I program them to explore unknown environments and give them
tactile sensing and force sensing. I try to emulate the
human ability to manipulate, touch and explore."
Her work is part of a larger effort to
create more sophisticated machines to take over tasks that
are too dangerous, too tedious or too difficult for humans.
To achieve this goal, many researchers are working on
systems that give robots "eyes" to identify objects and
avoid obstacles. But Okamura is one of the few engineers
trying to replicate the sense of touch. "Vision is obviously
very important," she says. "But if you can imagine going
through life only seeing things but never being able to
touch them, it's obvious that touch is also very important.
'Touch' is also something that's very difficult to get
robots to do. Vision is a passive sense--you can look at
something without affecting it. But in order to touch
something, the robot has to interact with the object and
From Kansas farm boy to 'Dr.
When William Welch, the founder of the Johns Hopkins School
of Hygiene and Public Health, and his new assistant
director, William Henry Howell, decided to name E.V.
McCollum chairman of the Department of Chemical Hygiene,
their choice was so radical that it shocked even McCollum
As McCollum later wrote in his
autobiography, From Kansas Farm Boy to Scientist:
"I could scarcely realize that I, a worker in an
agricultural experiment station, with no medical training
and no contacts with public health, was the first professor
selected to take charge of a department in the new exciting
adventure of training medical and nonmedical students to
reduce or control, and perhaps to eradicate, the great
scourges in the form of diseases which afflicted mankind."
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