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This paper introduces "seashell effect pretouch sensing", and demonstrates application of this new sensing modality to robot grasp control, and also to robot grasp planning. "Pretouch" refers to sensing modalities that are intermediate in range between tactile sensing and vision. The novel pretouch technique presented in this paper is effective on materials that prior pretouch techniques fail on. Seashell effect pretouch is inspired by the phenomenon of "hearing the sea" when a seashell is held to the ear, a phenomenon which depends on shell position. To turn this effect into a sensor, a cavity and microphone were built into a robot finger. The sensor detects changes in the spectrum of ambient noise that occur when the finger approaches an object. Environmental noise is amplified most at the cavity's resonant frequency, which changes as the cavity approaches an object. After introducing the sensing modality and characterizing its performance, the paper describes experiments performed with prototype sensors integrated into the Willow Garage PR2's gripper. We explore two primary applications: (1) reactive grasp control and (2) pretouch-assisted grasp planning.
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