Materials Science

Robots Could Soon Have More Sensitive Skin Than You Do

Robots may soon be more sensitive than humans—at least when it comes to their skin. Researchers from Glasgow University have developed a type of artificial skin that is more sensitive than our own. Just add this to all the ways robots are taking over the world.

Related: A Robot Performed Soft-Tissue Surgery By Itself

The Skin You're In

Dr. Ravinder Dahiya is the creator of this new "electronic" skin. As he told TedX Glasgow in an interview, it uses a variety of sensors to measure things like pressure and temperature. Dahiya and his team managed to create this extremely sensitive artificial skin using graphene, a material that "despite being just a single atom thick, is stronger than steel, electrically conductive, and transparent," according to a press release

The extreme sensitivity of the new skin could lead to better prosthetics, where touch is currently a limiting factor. (Watch this cool demonstration that shows just how important touch sensitivity is.) The artificial skin also has a solar panel underneath that absorbs 98 percent of available light, making the entire device self-powered.

Dr Ravinder Dahiya

The Future is (Almost) Here

The coupling of solar panel technology with artificial skin is a huge breakthrough, but Dahiya and his team aren't stopping there. They hope to bring cheaper prosthetics to market, and eventually create "an entirely energy-autonomous prosthetic limb," Dahiya told Engadget.

Down the line, that may mean smarter, more sensitive robots. "Skin capable of touch sensitivity also opens the possibility of creating robots capable of making better decisions about human safety," Dahiya explained in the Glasgow University press release. "A robot working on a construction line, for example, is much less likely to accidentally injure a human if it can feel that a person has unexpectedly entered their area of movement and stop before an injury can occur." Welcome to the future.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. One of the lightest solid materials in the world, aerogels are gels where the liquid has been replaced with gas. They’re great for insulation because the air doesn’t transfer heat very well, and they’re almost transparent, so they could be good for insulating windows. 00:42

  2. In 2015, scientists designed an 80-nanometer-thin material that uses tiny gold antennas to counteract light reflecting off of any objects it wraps around, hiding the fact that either the material or the object is even there. 01:37

  3. Self-healing concrete contains limestone-creating bacteria that can repair any cracks that form. The bacteria can live for up to 200 years. 07:17

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Written by Curiosity Staff April 12, 2017

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