Artificial skin gives robotic hand a sense of touch

Researchers have developed an artificial skin, capable of stretching over robotic hands and sense the difference between hot and cold. Findings are published in Science Advances.

The study, led by Cunjiang Yu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, outlined the creation of the flexible, electronic skin with the aim of using the skin on robotic hands. Current semiconductors are brittle, but the new skin, which uses silicon-based polymer and tiny nanowires, is able to create a stretchable material that transports electrical current even after being stretched up to 50 percent.

"We foresee that this strategy of enabling elastomeric semiconductors by percolating semiconductor nanofibrils into a rubber will advance the development of stretchable semiconductors, and ... will move forward the advancement of stretchable electronics for a wide range of applications, such as artificial skins, biomedical implants and surgical gloves," wrote Yu and colleagues.

In testing the artificial skin, researchers applied the skin to a robotic hand and showcased how the hand could sense the temperature of hot and cold water in a cup. The hand was also able to interpret computer signals sent to the hand to recreate hand signals from the American Sign Language.

"Our strategy has advantages for simple fabrication, scalable manufacturing, high-density integration, large strain tolerance and low cost," said Yu. "The robotic skin can translate the gesture to readable letters that a person like me can understand and read.”