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Stretchable Electronic Skin: Step Towards High Precision Robots

Stretchable Electronic Skin: Step Towards High Precision Robots

A groundbreaking stretchable electronic skin (e-skin) technology has been developed, capable of endowing robots with a level of touch sensitivity akin to that of human skin. The invention opens up a plethora of prospects for meticulous and refined applications of force across fields.

The e-skin, birthed from the University of Texas at Austin's research labs, circumvents the major hitches currently facing the technology. Unlike previous e-skin models, this new form retains its sensing accuracy even when stretched, a significant advancement in the field.

"Like our skin, e-skin should stretch and bend for smooth robot operation. Regardless of how much our e-skin expands, the pressure response remains consistent, quite a remarkable feat," expressed Nanshu Lu, the project lead from the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the Cockrell School of Engineering. The details of this research have been published in the scientific journal, Matter.

The stretchable e-skin can serve as a crucial element for creating a robot hand that exhibits the same softness and sensitivity as a human hand. This would allow for its employment in the healthcare realm, where such robots could be monitoring a patient's pulse or offering massage therapy.

The aged population worldwide is outgrowing the number of available caregivers, amplifying the demand for nursing and physical therapy automations. Robots can function as an efficient and gentle solution to this looming crisis, stipulates Lu.

Moreover, the scope of human-caring robots is not limited to healthcare. In times of disaster, these machines could be sent out to find and render immediate medical help to those caught in catastrophes like earthquakes or building collapses.

A primary feature of e-skin technology is its capacity to sense force from contact, enabling the connected machinery to determine the extent of pressure required in tasks like holding a glass or touching a human. Prior types of e-skins could wrongly interpret pressure readings when stretched, possibly making a robot apply excessive force.

However, the researchers' innovative hybrid response pressure sensor eradicates errors such as these, enabling smoother application of tasks. In test setups, the stretchable e-skin was proven capable of maintaining grip on a glass even when weight was added, capturing accurate pulse and pulse wave data from human subjects, and exerting pressure on brittle objects without breaking them.

Work has already begun on potential applications of this advanced e-skin technology. Lu and her team are looking to cooperate with robotics companies in order to bring it to market. They are currently in liaison with Roberto Martin-Martin, a Computer Science Department assistant professor at the College of Natural Sciences, to create a robotic arm integrated with the e-skin.

Disclaimer: The above article was written with the assistance of AI. The original sources can be found on ScienceDaily.