In a big step forward for robotics, researchers have designed a fully functional electronic skin, which they say will allow robots to be able to have a sense of touch similar to humans.
A team at the University of Colorado Boulder says that they have developed the first kind of electronic skin, or e-skin, that is fully recyclable and re-heals itself. The technology mimics the mechanical properties and functions of human skin, such as measuring temperature, pressure and vibration, Quartz reports.
The idea for e-skin has been around since 2011, but this is the first version that can be reused, reducing waste and lessening manufacturing costs.
The researchers say that the e-skin has various applications, from prosthetics to biomedicine. For example, a prosthetic arm or leg with a layer of electronic skin can allow the wearer to respond to temperature and pressure changes, like when more pressure is needed to touch something.
E-skin is made from a polymer and silver nanoparticles, helping it conform to complex, curved body parts like fingers or toes.
The most interesting application for this technology – or most disturbing, according to critics – is in the field of robotics. Jianliang Xiao, a mechanical engineer at the University of Colorado Boulder and lead author on the study, says that e-skin can lead to “safer” interactions between robots and humans.
Sensing is critical because when human beings interact with robots, we want to make sure that robots don’t hurt people. When the baby is sick, the robot can just use a finger to touch the surface…it can tell what the temperature of the baby is.
This e-skin can heal itself when damaged, and when destroyed beyond repair, the material can be soaked in a solution that separates the silver nanoparticles, allowing it to be recycled back into a new e-skin.
The study was published in Science Advances.