The Challenge In Developing Robot Skin.
If domestic robots are every going to accepted as human-like, there will need to be improvements in the materials used for skin. Our skin is actually the largest organ on our body and acts not just as covering for our muscles but also a huge sensor for hot.cold, pressure and motion. Will it be possible to simulate our skin to be able to give future robots this same level of sensing the outside world?
Our skin is not exactly tough. It can be easily cut or damaged but then again it has the ability to heal. Developing a synthetic skin for robots comparable to our skin is a tall order.
One of the most famous latest real android robots using artificial intelligence from Hansen Robotics is Sophia. Next generation androids would benefit from having a better robot skin with far more sensing of the real world around and even for interaction with humans.
Electronic-skin technologies for prosthetics and robots can detect the slightest touch or breeze. But oddly, the sensors that make this possible do not respond effectively to a harmful blow. Now researchers report in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces the development of a jellyfish-inspired electronic skin that glows when the pressure against it is high enough to potentially cause an injury.
An electronic skin that can mimic the full range of biological skin’s sensitivity has great potential to transform prosthetics and robotics. Current technologies are very sensitive, but only within a narrow range of weak pressures. Under high pressures that could cause damage, the electronic skins’ sensitivity fades.
To address this shortcoming, Bin Hu and colleagues at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology turned to the Atolla jellyfish for inspiration. This bioluminescent, deep-sea creature can feel changes in environmental pressure and flashes dramatically when it senses danger.
Building on the idea of a visual warning in response to a physical threat, the researchers combined electric and optical systems in a novel electronic skin to detect both slight and high-force pressures. They embedded two layers of stretchy, poly-dimethysiloxane, or PDMS, film with silver nanowires. These layers produce an electrical signal in response to slight pressures, such as those created by a breeze or contact with a leaf. Sandwiched in between the silver nanowire electrodes is a PDMS layer embedded with phosphors. This layer kicks in and glows with growing intensity as the physical force increases.
The researchers say this approach to robot skin more closely copies the wide range of pressures the human skin can feel.
An electronic skin glows when a transparent ‘W’ is pressed onto it, and a voltage is applied (bottom).