An artificial nervous system called ACES could give robots a sense of touch

Scientists have created a new system called Asynchronous Coded Electronic Skin (ACES) that they say provides a sense of touch that is at least equivalent to human skin and could be better. The new electronic skin system promises ultra-high responsiveness and can survive damage. The new artificial skin can pair with any sensor skin layers.

The team took inspiration from human sensory nervous systems and spent a year and a half developing a sensor that could potentially perform better. The ACES electronic nervous system detects signals like a human sensor nervous system. Rather than being made of bundles of nerves like human skin, it's made up of a network of sensors connected via a shared electrical conductor.

The team's new system also differs from other electronic skins that have interlinked wiring systems that can make them sensitive to damage and hard to scale up. ACES can detect touches 1,000 times faster than the human sensory nervous system. The system claims to be able to differentiate physical contact between different sensors in less than 60 nanoseconds.

That is the fastest speed ever achieved by an electronic skin. The skin is also able to identify the shape, texture, and hardness of objects in 10 milliseconds. Each sensor in the ACES system is connected to a common electrical conductor that allows each to operate independently. As long as there is one connection between the sensor and conductor, the skin keeps functioning, making it less vulnerable to damage.

The team has paired ACES with a transparent, self-healing, and water-resistant sensor skin layer developed in their lab. That created an electronic skin that can self-repair like human skin. Other applications include the potential to create more intelligent robots that can perform disaster recovery tasks.