Researchers from the University of Tokyo have devised pressure-sensor arrays that promise to give objects like rugs and robots the equivalent of one aspect of skin — pressure sensitivity.
The researchers’ pressure sensor arrays are built from inexpensive organic, or plastic, transistors on a flexible material. This allows for dense arrays that can be used over large areas.
The arrays could be used in pressure-sensitive carpets in homes or hospitals to distinguish family members from strangers or sense when a patient collapses, in gyms and cars to monitor people’s health and performance, and eventually as skin that would give robots the means to interact more sensitively with their surroundings, according to the researchers.
The pressure-sensitive skin is made from rubber embedded with electrically conductive graphite particles that change the layer’s electrical resistance when pressure is applied. The researchers’ prototype is an eight-centimeter-square sheet containing a 32-by-32 array of organic sensors — a density of 16 sensors per square centimeter. In contrast, humans have 1,500 pressure sensors per square centimeter in the fingertips, though far fewer in most other places.