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Biological sensory systems have developed to best capture the properties of surrounding objects and environment that are useful for acting in the world. The physical properties of tactile receptors and the way neurons encode the characteristics of each stimulus allow our brain to make sense of the world and take appropriate decisions on how to behave.

When grasping a glass of water, our hand automatically adjusts the force used to stably hold the glass depending on its size, weight, roughness, slippery, softness. This is done by a very efficient system that spares the slightest bit of information, to avoid consuming too much energy for each single action. As such, artificial systems have much to learn from biology, to develop cheap solutions that can run in a very small device and at minimum energy cost. This is especially true in autonomous systems (such as robots) and in medical devices that run on the body of people, to minimize heat produced and maximize battery life.

NeuTouch aims at improving artificial tactile systems, by training a new generation of researchers that study how human and animal’s tactile systems work, develop a new type of technology that is based on the same principles, and use this technology for building robots that can help humans in daily tasks and artificial limbs that can give the user the sensation of real touch.

Ten young researchers will be part of an international and multi-disciplinary network of universities and research centres, that are expert in the three main areas of scientific research needed to successfully accomplish the ultimate goals of the project: neuroscience, modelling and computational neuroscience, neuromorphic engineering, robotics and prosthetics. The network is also completed by small industries and spin-off companies where students will deploy, validate and test their know-how in real products. The union of scientific world and companies is the key to provide a complete education to students, encompassing best scientific practice and entrepreneurship, giving this new generation of researchers the capability to bring innovation to the scientific community and to the industrial world, leading to the development of science that will have a direct impact in society/will respond to the needs of people.

The field of artificial touch has seen the development of a plethora of transducers based on different technologies but a relatively limited development of computational models to extract information from raw sensory data, with a lack of system level approach.

In robotics, it is crucial to understand which of the characteristics of the touched object are important for behaviour and decision making, and how they have to be extracted at the transduction level, encoded in the sensory signal and processed. In prosthetics, the same principle can inform on the correct stimulation pattern needed to evoke a natural sensation that conveys information about the sensory stimulus.

To this aim, we need to train a new generation of researchers that can build up a novel community where the principles of sensory encoding and processing in biological systems are studied and applied to the design of more efficient artificial systems, specifically targeting the sense of touch.

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