Monday, 13 September 2010

Sensitive skin!

The news today is covering a great deal about the US developments at both Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley on artificial skin experiments, as published in the journal "Nature Materials". Such a skin could in future form the coving for robot limbs, whether for stand-alone robots or for prosthetics for humans that need replacement body parts. Robots with sensitive skin like this could literally feel the objects they manipulate, allowing them to work with more fragile items, for example.

Both approaches demonstrate yet another area which could be impacted by nano-scale technology in a few years time. Engineering pressure sensors into special conductive rubber materials at such a microscopic level is just one of a huge potential number of ways that nano-technology could enable. The two approaches use Thin Film Transistors (TFTs) which previously have been utilised in computer display technology.

At the moment this is lab-based experimentation but the teams working on it have also identified a fairly low cost method for industrialising the manufacture of such materials. In the future, artificial skin will not only look like real human skin, but also allow machines to sense the feel of the materials they come into contact with. Once such developments are brought together with other robotic advances, the total capability of robots as we understand them today will be revolutionised.

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