Innovation Economy

Better fingers may be key to better robots

The Tactico robot’s cameras would help it “see” an object; finger pads could help it function.
Robot Rebuilt
The Tactico robot’s cameras would help it “see” an object; finger pads could help it function.

Eduardo Torres-Jara wants to expand the kinds of tasks robots can perform by giving them more-sensitive fingers. His start-up, Robot Rebuilt, is making the rounds of Boston venture capital firms.

The robot, Tactico, builds upon work done at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, supervised by Rod Brooks, the iRobot cofounder who is now at Rethink Robotics.

Torres-Jara, an assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said he was “inspired by the ridges humans have on their fingers. We wanted to make a robotic hand that would mimic that and achieve some of the same sensitivity our hands have.”


Tactico would have cameras to help it “see” an object in front of it and use the aqua-colored pads on its fingers to find the edges of the object — similar to the way humans use their fingers when groping in the dark for the alarm clock. Inside each pad is a sensor that can detect force and understand which direction the force is coming from. That, said Torres-Jara, enables Tactico to pick up anything from eggs to wine glasses.

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One application, he said, would be moving around prototype parts formed by a computer-controlled milling machine. Another would be handling samples in a lab.

“Right now, PhDs come in at 3 a.m. to take care of their experiments,” Torres-Jara said. “Our robot could do that.”

Robot Rebuilt is inegotiating a technology license from MIT. Torres-Jara said the company will probably be based in Cambridge.

Bringing order to your photo collection

All of us are snapping more digital photos, and stashing them in more places: Facebook, Shutterfly, Instagram, computers, mobile phones.


Woven, an app from the Boston company Litl, wants to bring order to the chaos. It has released a version of its app that makes it easy to display photos on a Samsung Smart TV.

“People are taking more and more photos but enjoying them less and less,” said James Gardner, vice president of marketing. “You might have 10,000 photos from the last few years, but it’s not easy to surface the most relevant and exciting ones.”

What the app does especially well is give you access to your pictures no matter where they are stored. (It’s available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and several other platforms.) It took me just a few minutes to sign in to Flickr, Shutterfly, and Facebook and then view thumbnail pictures on my ­iPhone. The Samsung integration lets you link your phone or tablet to your TV by punching in a code it displays on the screen. Tap any picture, and it’s displayed on the big screen. The interface is elegant and streamlined. But I spent most of my visit to Litl chatting with Garner and Kirsten Lewis about what else the app might do.

There’s no way now, for instance, to set up a slide show. It would be nice to review all the pictures you shot on Christmas morning over the last few years, or photos from several trips to the Vineyard. It would be nice to add voice annotations.

If friends sitting on your couch had the Woven app, perhaps they could give each photo a star rating as it appeared on the screen, creating a top 10 list of pics from the bachelorette party you’d all been to.


Looking at photos on a TV is a much ­better group experience than crowding around a laptop or tablet, but the Woven app doesn’t have enough functionality to truly dazzle, beyond the nifty trick of letting you select a photo on your phone and seeing it on the big screen.

Some of you may remember Litl as the company that in 2009 started selling a $700 computer called the Webbook. It was an unsuccessful forerunner of devices like Google Chromebook, and Litl stopped selling it in mid-2011 to focus on developing software. Litl is a division of Aquent, a global agency that helps place tech and creative talent.

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