This faux skin gives robots a sense of touch

Researchers with UCLA and the University of Washington have created a faux skin that gives robots a sense of touch, enabling them to better grasp objects and more. This fake skin, which is described as a flexible sensor, can be stretched over robotic parts or a prosthetic limb, giving the device a sense of vibration and shear force.

A sense of touch is a necessary component in robotics; with it, a robot can tell the difference between too much and not enough pressure, for example. The ability to detect whether an object is slipping from its grip would enable a robot to grasp it more firmly, plus being able to sense an object in the hand is a necessary part of manipulating the item.

Unlike existing methods for giving a robot or prosthetic a sense of touch, which is usually limited to one aspect of touch, this faux skin is able to provide tactile perception across three modalities: shear force, vibration, and normal forces. The skin is made using silicone rubber; within the skin is liquid metal contained in "tiny serpentine channels," according to the University of Washington.

Unlike ordinary wires, which are solid, the use of liquid metal enables the fake skin to stretch without risking damage to the wires. The metal's flow through the channels depend on how the skin is manipulated at any given moment; this results in differing levels of electrical resistance, which can be correlated with different levels of vibrations or force.

Describing this, the resulting paper's lead author Jianzhu Yin explained, "Our electronic skin bulges to one side just like the human finger does and the sensors that measure the shear forces are physically located where the nailbed would be, which results in a sensor that performs with similar performance to human fingers."

The full research paper can be read here.

SOURCE: University of Washington