Many medical procedures involving needle insertion into soft tissues, such as anesthesia, biopsy, brachytherapy, and placement of electrodes, are performed without image guidance. In such procedures, haptic detection of changing tissue properties at different depths during needle insertion is important for needle localization and detection of subsurface structures. However, changes in tissue mechanical properties deep inside the tissue are difficult for human operators to sense, because the relatively large friction force between the needle shaft and the surrounding tissue masks the smaller tip forces. A novel robotic coaxial needle insertion assistant, which enhances operator force perception, is presented. This one-degree-of-freedom cable-driven robot provides to the operator a scaled version of the force applied by the needle tip to the tissue, using a novel design and sensors that separate the needle tip force from the shaft friction force. The ability of human operators to use the robot to detect membranes embedded in artificial soft tissue was tested under the conditions of 1) tip force and shaft force feedback, and 2) tip force only feedback. The ratio of successful to unsuccessful membrane detections was significantly higher (up to 50%) when only the needle tip force was provided to the user.