Artificial 'skin' gives robotic hand a sense of touch

Written by: Tom Austin-Morgan | Published:

Researchers from the University of Houston have created a scalable process for producing stretchable electronics that can serve as an artificial skin, allowing a robotic hand to sense the difference between hot and cold, while also offering advantages for a wide range of biomedical devices.

Cunjiang Yu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said the work is the first to create a semiconductor in a rubber composite format, designed to allow the electronic components to retain functionality even after the material is stretched by 50%.

Traditional semiconductors are brittle and using them in otherwise stretchable materials has required a complicated system of mechanical accommodations. That's both more complex and less stable than the new discovery, as well as more expensive, Prof Yu said.

The stretchable composite semiconductor was prepared by using a silicon-based polymer known as polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS, and tiny nanowires to create a solution that hardened into a material which used the nanowires to transport electric current.

The researchers used the electronic skin to demonstrate that a robotic hand could sense the temperature of hot and iced water in a cup. The skin also was able to interpret computer signals sent to the hand and reproduce the signals as American Sign Language.

The researchers said: “We foresee that this will move forward the advancement of stretchable electronics for a wide range of applications, such as artificial skins, biomedical implants and surgical gloves.”


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