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Sensitive Artificial Skin For Touchy-Feely Robots

Sensitive artificial skin is what robots need to, well, feel closer to us humans. When are robots going to get sensitive skin like humans have? Researchers at Stanford, among other places, are working on it.


(Artificial Skin for Robots )

To create this wonder-sensor skin, the researchers began by spraying carbon nanotubes in a liquid suspension onto a thin layer of silicone. The material was then stretched repeatedly to align and pull the bundles of sprayed on nanotubes across the entire surface. The nanotubes formed into springs, called "nano-springs" by the researchers, as a result of the stretching, which allows the artificial skin to be pulled and squeezed without any permanent deformation.

The actual sensor consists of two of these stretchable nano-spring layers oriented so that the capacitive carbon coatings are facing each other with a layer of easily deformed type of silicone between them. An electrical charge is put into the middle silicon layer so that it acts like a battery with a positive and negative side.

When the sensor is pressed, it alters the amount of charge the silicon can hold, and the nano-springs detect this change, which is translated into "feeling".

"This sensor can register pressure ranging from a firm pinch between your thumb and forefinger to twice the pressure exerted by an elephant standing on one foot," Darren Lipomi, a postdoctoral researcher

In his Hugo award-winning 1966 novel This Immortal, Roger Zelazny refers to a robot wrestler named Rolem which is sensitive to pressure and touch:

A worthy opponent was the golem. Hasan had it programmed at twice the statistically-averaged strength of a man and had its reflex-time upped by fifty percent. Its memory contained hundreds of wrestling holds and its governor theoretically prevented it from killing or maiming its opponent - all through a series of chemelectric afferent nerve-analogues, which permitted it to gauge to an ounce the amount of pressure necessary to snap a bone or tear a tendon.

Via PCworld.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/25/2011)

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