We’re used to thinking of robots as cold, calculating, unfeeling automatons. But what if they could be more than that? Maybe a bit more sensitive? That’s the thinking behind e-Skin, or electronic skin. There are at least two teams out there working hard at perfecting it.
The first type of artificial skin can respond to pressures roughly equivalent to those detectable by human skin, which has many applications in both robotics and in prosthetic limbs. It’s made of tiny nanowires on a sticky film, with a layer of transistors and another of pressure-sensitive rubber on top.
Another type uses a rubber film in conjunction with capacitors to measure changes in pressure, though this approach can’t be stretched.
Both are at the prototype stage and appear to be on their way to working out well for robots. It will likely be far more challenging to get this type of artificial skin to work for humans as part of a prosthetic limb, though. “Connecting the artificial skin with the human nerve system will be a very challenging task,” claims Zhenan Bao, leader of the second team.
So for the time being at least, we’ll have to settle for sensitive robots. But only physically sensitive; getting an android to gently weep over a touching sonnet or beautiful sunset is an entirely different challenge.
One step at a time – and maybe taking those steps will be among the things robots will get better at with this upgrade. Feeling the surface you’re walking on sure can’t hurt, can it?
(via Yahoo! News)