A team of scientists at Cornell University have developed a skin-like material that is not only soft, flexible, and capable of stretching to six times its original size, but features robotics such as color-changing displays and pressure sensitivity. If you’ve had a fear of robot octopuses before now, your nightmares are coming true. With cephalopods as their inspiration, the engineers imagine the technology could not only lead to soft, adaptable robots, but to stretching and folding display screens.
“This skin could allow soft robots to make themselves more or less visible in their environment, or colorize themselves to appear more friendly or aggressive. Those are traits we’d borrow directly from the octopus,” said Robert Shepherd, one of the project’s lead researchers. Their creation is capable of bending into different shapes, twisting, and expanding, while still maintaining strength, all features of an octopus.
The demonstration also highlights the skin’s ability to change colors, something that will also be important for human-robot interactions. Not only could the panels be used to display information, but Shepherd also notes that once “robots become more and more a part of our lives, the ability for them to have emotional connection with us will be important. So to be able to change their color in response to mood or the tone of the room we believe is going to be important for human-robot interactions.”
There’s still a lot of work to be done before the technology ends up on robots or in meaningful products. The scientists admit they need to make the display panels brighter, as well as increase the resolution. Once that’s done, they think it will be time to start working wearable computer sleeves, or even a smartphone that could “stretch it into a much larger tablet.”