Sunday, May 26, 2024

Stretchable E-Skin Boosts Robot Touch To Human Levels

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This represents a breakthrough in the field of robotics and could potentially transform how machines interact with their environment.

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a new type of electronic skin (e-skin) that retains its sensing accuracy even when stretched. Nanshu Lu, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, led the development. According to Lu, this new e-skin mimics the functionality of human skin, which must stretch and bend without losing its touch sensitivity. The technology was detailed in a recent publication in the journal Matter.

One of the primary applications envisioned for this stretchable e-skin is in robotics, particularly in creating robot hands that possess a human-like touch. Such advancements could greatly benefit the medical field, where robots could perform tasks like checking a patient’s pulse or providing massages, tasks that require softness and precision. The need for such technology is pressing given the global aging population, which is growing beyond the capacity of existing medical systems. Robots equipped with this new e-skin could serve as nurses or therapists, providing care that is both efficient and gentle.

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Delivering Care with Precision

Beyond healthcare, these advancements could also be crucial in disaster response scenarios. Robots equipped with this e-skin could navigate through debris to locate and provide immediate care to survivors of earthquakes or other catastrophes.

The e-skin works by sensing pressure and letting the attached device know the appropriate amount of force to use for different tasks. This is critical because conventional e-skins tend to lose sensing accuracy when stretched due to the deformation being registered as noise. This could lead to improper force application, such as a robot grasping an object too tightly.

The researchers demonstrated the e-skin’s capabilities through various applications, such as using inflatable probes and grippers that can adjust their grip based on the object’s sensitivity, from capturing a human pulse to handling fragile items without causing damage.

The e-skin employs a hybrid response pressure sensor that combines capacitive and resistive sensing, a culmination of years of research by Lu and her team. They are now exploring potential applications of this technology and are collaborating with other experts to incorporate it into a robotic arm. A provisional patent has been filed, and Lu is open to partnerships with robotics companies to commercialize the technology.

Akanksha Gaur
Akanksha Gaur
Akanksha Sondhi Gaur is a journalist at EFY. She has a German patent and brings a robust blend of 7 years of industrial & academic prowess to the table. Passionate about electronics, she has penned numerous research papers showcasing her expertise and keen insight.


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