A team of scientists has been working on a new type of artificial “skin”, one specially designed for robots so as to give them a better “sense of touch”. This finer, more sensitive and stretchable surface could help expand the respective device’s area of use.
This New Artificial Skin: More Stretchable, Less Brittle
University of Houston researchers led by Cunjiang Yu are behind this latest discovery. They have developed a new composite material based on rubber and semiconductors.
In contrast to other existing and similar technologies, this new artificial skin can be stretched by up to 50 percent. This can stretch up to 50 percent without fearing that the semiconductors inside it will be damaged.
Semiconductors are usually brittle, and their usage in stretchable materials requires quite complicated mechanical systems. According to the team, this is the first stretchy material that uses them and does not require a ‘special mechanical structure’.
The researchers also tested the sensibility of their artificial skin when used by a robot. They checked to see if this could ‘sense’ temperatures. To do so, they had it touching a cup of iced water and another with hot one. Then, based on the state of the water in the cup, the hand to perform the signal for “hot” or “cold”. The team used the American Sign Language for this.
“The robotic skin can translate the gesture to readable letters that a person like me can understand and read,” states the lead.
He continues by pointing out that “Our strategy [of using this new artificial skin] has advantages for simple fabrication, scalable manufacturing, high-density integration, large strain tolerance and low cost”.
The researchers hope that their product will start being used with something other than robots as well. They consider that it could be useful in medical implants, health monitors, or human-machine interfaces, for example.
The advances of stretchable electronics, in general, will open the way for a wide range of applications for anything from artificial skins to surgical gloves, states the team.
A paper describing their invention and its tests and applications is available in the journal Science Advances.
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