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Fingerprint Purpose

March 26, 2009

New research suggests our fingerprints help us feel finely detailed surfaces.


Why fingerprints? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Fingerprints are a great form of I.D., but clearly that’s not why we have them. Now, French scientists may have solved that mystery. They designed robot fingers with ridged or smooth fingertips. According to Alexis Prevost of the National Center for Scientific Research, the ridged fingertips filtered and amplified tiny pressure variations when rubbed across a finely grained surface. Prevost says sensors in our skin use that very information to detect subtle textures, or to notice when an object we’re holding starts to slip.

ALEXIS PREVOST (National Center for Scientific Research, France):
This aspect is particularly important if you want to design, let’s say, robots, which will be able to grab any kind of objects without letting them fall between its fingers.

He says this insight could make that goal more achievable. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.