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New Skin-Like Sensor Could Bring Human Touch to Soft Robots

Image Credit: Daria Perevezentsev

Image Credit: Daria Perevezentsev

In the future, robots will be able to know the right amount of pressure that’s necessary to handle a brittle object. And a new skin-like sensor may have paved the way for the ability.

The researchers at the University of Toronto Engineering have invented a stretchy, transparent, self-powered sensor that they’re calling Artificial Ionic Skin — or AISkin for shorts. What does AISkin do, you ask?

It records the complex sensations of human skin. Whether its temperature or the progress of muscle rehabilitation, the sensor can measure multiple body parameters.

Here’s how it works

Using a Skin-Like Sensor to Bring Human Touch to Robots

The researchers made AISkin from two oppositely charged sheets of a hydrogel. Thanks to the overlaying positive and negative ions, the gel’s surface had what the researchers are calling a “sensing junction.”

So, when a user subjects the AISkin to a strain, humidity, or high temperature, it generates ion movement across the sensing junction. And these ion movements can be measured as electrical signals like current or voltage.

If you look at human skin, how we sense heat or pressure, our neural cells transmit information through ions—it’s really not so different from our artificial skin,” says professor Xinyu Liu, whose lab focuses on the emerging areas of ionic skin and soft robotics.

Since the sensor is a hydrogel, it is inexpensive to produce and also biocompatible. That means users can put it directly on their skin without worrying about any toxic effect.

Potential Applications of AISkins

AISkins is very adhesive, and this prevents it from falling off the skin during intense movements. So, the applications are numerous.

Professor Xinyu Liu said:

“It [AISkins] could work for athletes looking to measure the rigor of their training, or it could be a wearable touchpad to play games.”

It could also prove useful in soft robotics. For example, soft robotic grippers in factories will know the pressure required to hold delicate objects like bulbs.

Now the researchers are working to enhance the technology. Over the next year, Liu and his colleagues want to reduce the size of their skin-like sensor using microfabrication.

They also want to integrate bio-sensing capabilities into the tech. That way, it can measure biomolecules in body fluids such as sweat.

Read More: New Synthetic Skin Could Enable Robots Feel Physical Contacts

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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