New Robot Skin Is Flexible, Sensitive, Solar-Powered
This amazing new skin for robots is built on a stretchable solar cell system that can expand and shrink along two different axes. When the skin is subjected to pressure, the current flowing through the transistors is modified as tiny pyramid shapes molded into the polymer layer compress, resulting in a super-sensitive transducer that can apparently detect the pressure from a house-fly's feet.
The latest advance has seen Bao adding a corrugated microstructure organic solar cell layer into the skin. The clever folding in this layer allows it to be stretched along two axes...by up to 30% beyond its original length. This lets her coat pretty much any human-like joint with the skin and still have it collect enough solar power to run its sensor array, even when the skin is stretched and distorted over complex joints like elbows. Cleverly, the flexible solar array is connected into a circuit via a liquid metal electrode, which conforms to the particular shape of the solar cell at any particular moment.
If robots are to work with people, they need to be as sensitive as people to unintended touches. If you want the robots of the future, you need super skin for robots.
Also, if you want your own surrogate android - like in the recent movie - you'll want sensitive skin.
Update 8-Dec-2011: In Roger Zelazny's Hugo award-winning 1966 novel This Immortal gives sf fans a glimpse of this idea. A wrestling robot uses special skin described as a radar mesentery to sense its opponent. End update.