Scientists have developed a flexible electronic skin, or “e-skin,” that could give robots a sense of touch. The new technology was developed by a team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and is described in a recent paper published in the journal Science Robotics.

The e-skin is made up of a thin layer of sensors and transistors that can detect pressure, temperature, and other physical stimuli. It is designed to be lightweight and flexible, making it suitable for use on soft, flexible robots that can operate in tight spaces and interact with delicate objects.

“We’ve developed a skin that can feel like a human hand, with a similar range of pressure sensitivity and the ability to detect subtle temperature changes,” said Ali Javey, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley and senior author of the study.

The researchers used a process called “transfer printing” to fabricate the e-skin, which involves depositing the sensors and transistors onto a thin sheet of polymer and then transferring them onto a soft, flexible substrate. This allowed them to create a high-resolution, stretchable sensor array that can conform to complex shapes and textures.

“We’re really excited about the potential applications for this technology,” said Javey. “It could be used to create more realistic prosthetics, improve the safety of robots in manufacturing and other settings, and even enable new forms of human-machine interaction.”

The e-skin has already been tested on a soft, robotic gripper, where it was able to accurately detect the force and direction of objects it was gripping. The researchers also showed that the e-skin could be used to detect temperature changes, such as those caused by a warm object in the robot’s environment.

“We think this technology has the potential to revolutionize the field of soft robotics and make robots more versatile and adaptable,” said Javey.

The development of e-skin is just one example of the growing field of “smart materials,” which are designed to mimic the properties of human skin and other biological tissues. As these technologies continue to advance, they could help bridge the gap between humans and machines and enable new forms of human-machine interaction.

“We’re still in the early stages of this technology, but we’re excited about its potential to change the way we think about robotics and prosthetics,” said Javey. “We hope that our work will inspire other researchers to explore the possibilities of e-skin and other smart materials.”

Via The Impactlab