Chinese scientists develop ‘Smart Skin’ to give robots human-like sense of touch

Scientists have developed a self-powered, transparent smart skin that will make it possible for robots to touch and sense the things around them. With the new human-like sense of touch, robots and prosthetics is bound to immensely revolutionize these technology.

Boosting the sensitivity of the skin involved the use of a high number of electrodes, a number determined by the size of the skin. This will result in a high cost. However, keeping the smart skins highly sensitive and powered is still a challenge.

The invention of a flexible and wearable sensor is set to open doors to a vast range of technologies including health monitoring. While there have been other electronic skin technologies developed in the recent times, keeping the cost low has been a major challenge.

The new smart skin developed by Chinese scientists is claimed not only to be cheaper but also capable of harvesting mechanical energy enough to power itself. Previous technologies including such as Paper Skin have great capabilities, but their poor transparency hinders their potential use in wearables.

Smart Skin Features

The new skin, which is made of a ultra-thin plastic film can achieve a touch resolution of up to 1.9 mm and uses just four silver nanowire electrodes coupled with an analog localizing technique. The new system also includes components that create electric charge from friction in a similar fashion as the nanogenerator car by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The system generates energy using triboelectric effect and harnesses electrical charge produced where certain objects or materials come into contact, such as a comb running through the hair.

The system is designed to produce electricity in everything it comes into contact with include clothing and touchscreen which means it could effectively harvest energy from prosthetic finger movements without necessitating external batteries.

According to the researchers from Peking University in China who are behind the invention, the skin is sensitive enough such that it can pinpoint a point and interact with it. It can also detect insects flying towards or away from it.