Researchers have developed a flexible sensor “skin” that can be wrapped around a finger or any other part of a robot or prosthetic device to help convey a sense of touch, enabling them to perform everything from surgical and industrial procedures to cleaning a kitchen. The bio-inspired robot sensor skin mimics the way a human finger experiences tension and compression as it slides along a surface or distinguishes among different textures and can detect tiny vibrations at 800 times per second, better than human fingers.
The study, detailed in the journal Sensors and Actuators A: Physical, demonstrated that the physically robust and chemically resistant sensor skin could vastly improve the ability of robots to perform everything from surgical and industrial procedures to cleaning a kitchen, opening a door, interacting with a phone, shaking hands, picking up packages and handling objects, among others.
“By mimicking human physiology in a flexible electronic skin, we have achieved a level of sensitivity and precision that’s consistent with human hands, which is an important breakthrough,” said Jonathan Posner, Professor at University of Washington.
“The sense of touch is critical for both prosthetic and robotic applications, and that’s what we’re ultimately creating,” Posner added.
The stretchable electronic skin is made from the same silicon rubber used in swimming goggles. The rubber is embedded with tiny serpentine channels — roughly half the width of a human hair — filled with electrically conductive liquid metal that won’t crack or fatigue when the skin is stretched, as solid wires would do. When the skin is placed around a robot finger or end effector, these microfluidic channels are strategically placed on either side of where a human fingernail would be. ALSO READ: Fitbit ‘Ionic’ fitness smartwatch with heart-rate sensor launched