E-Skin For Robots - And Maybe You

E-skin for robots that is both pressure-sensitive and self-healing is under development by researchers led by Zhenan Bao of Stanford University in California.

(As pressure is applied to the hand, the LED lights up)

The polymer matrix consists of a network of randomly branched oligomers that contain multiple urea groups. The presence of these groups results in a high density of hydrogen bonding within the network – contributing substantially to the structural integrity of the matrix’s scaffold. Nickel particles are dispersed throughout the matrix. The presence of oxygen on the surface of the nickel particles, in the form of an oxide, also allows hydrogen bonds to be made with the urea groups, further contributing to the structural stability of the composite.

The extensive hydrogen bonding accounts for the self-healing properties of the material and the nickel particles for its electrical conductivity and pressure-sensitivity, as team member Benjamin Tee explains. ‘Because hydrogen bonds are weaker than covalent bonds, when the material is damaged the hydrogen bonds break preferentially. Because hydrogen bonding is dynamic, the bonds can reassociate very quickly and this results in the material’s mechanical healing properties.’ If the material is ruptured, it spontaneously repairs itself and regains its mechanical strength within around 10 minutes.

E-skin can be used for robots, of course, but it could also be used on next-generation prosthetics, to give them a more realistic sensitivity when providing a hand-shake, for example.

One sf robot that could demonstrate how pressure-sensitive skin could be used was Rolem the wrestling robot from This Immortal, a classic Roger Zelazny novel. An exquisite appreciation of force across wide surface areas would be needed to make sure a wrestling robot did not damage its user.

Via RSC.

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