Researchers Develop Artificial Skin That Senses Touch

Rachael Chacko ‘21

Artificial skin, developed by researchers at the University of Houston, allows a robot hand to distinguish between hot and cold temperatures. The image above is a simulated robotic hand. (Image Source: Pixabay)

Artificial skin, developed by researchers at the University of Houston, allows a robot hand to distinguish between hot and cold temperatures. The image above is a simulated robotic hand. (Image Source: Pixabay)

Artificial skin, developed by researchers at the University of Houston, allows a robot hand to distinguish between hot and cold temperatures. The image above is a simulated robotic hand. (Image Source: Pixabay)

Researchers at the University of Houston have developed artificial skin that can be used in conjunction with a robotic hand to sense a range of temperatures as well as strain and pressure 1,2 . The skin also has the capability to read computer signals and reproduce them as American Sign Language.

The skin is composed of a stretchy rubber composite, but it is the first to be able to conduct electricity without a brittle mechanical structure. The stretchiness is due to a compound named polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a silicon-based polymer 1 . The skin is able to conduct electricity when the PDMS hardens into a material that uses tiny embedded nanowires to transport current. Various sensors also detect strain, pressure, and temperature changes.

This electronic skin is not only more stretchable, but also easier to synthesize than traditional semiconductors. Cunjiang Yu, the lead author of the paper and Bill D. Cook Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston, says that the elastic semiconductor “has advantages for simple fabrication, scalable manufacturing…strain tolerance, and low cost.” 1

The elastic semiconductor also has multiple other uses beyond creating artificial skin. Soft wearable electronics, such as health monitors and medical implants, will also be able to implement this technology.

The researchers predict that this “approach to constructing electronics and sensors all from elastomeric electronic materials” will accelerate the broader adoption of “stretchable electronics for a wide range of applications, such as artificial skins, biomedical implants, and surgical gloves.” 1 This material will not only give robotic hands a sense of touch, but also redefine the world of wearable medical electronics.

References:

  1. Kim, H., Sim, K., Thukral, A., and Yu, C. (2017, September 8). Rubbery electronics and sensors from intrinsically stretchable elastomeric composites of semiconductors and conductors . Retrieved September 15, 2017 from http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/9/e1701114.
  1. University of Houston. (2017, September 13). Artificial ‘skin’ gives robotic hand a sense of touch: UH researchers discover new form of stretchable electronics, sensors and skins. ScienceDaily . Retrieved September 15, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170913193055.htm
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