Robotics is an intense field of research all around the world as scientists attempt to create robots that are able to assist humans in all sorts of situations. One thing that robots need to be able to assist humans in functional situations is the ability to feel an object. Knowing how hard to squeeze an object is something that humans take for granted.
For instance, we know how hard we can squeeze a fragile item, such as a glass, without breaking it. Without that sort of feedback, a robot could simply crush an item they are meant to handle safely. A group of scientists from the United States and China working together have created an experimental array that is able to sense pressure in the same range as the human fingertip.
The creation of the experimental array is a step forward in allowing robots and other machines to mimic the human sense of touch. The so-called "smart skin" is able to "feel" activity on its surface. The material is embedded with sensors that use bundles of vertical zinc oxide nano wires. The material also contains arrays consisting of about 8000 transistors.
Each of those 8000 transistors is capable of producing an electronic signal when placed under mechanical strain. These sensors are called taxels and promise sensitivity on par with the human fingertip. While there are other ways to give materials a sense of touch, the method developed by the researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology relies on a different physical phenomenon. These researchers use tiny polarization charges from piezoelectric materials, such as zinc oxide, that are produced when the material is moved or placed under a strain. The scientists believe that the technology could be used in robotics, human computer interfaces, and other areas where mechanical deformation is present.