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13 September 2010

Touch-Sensitive Artificial Skin For Robots

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U.S. researchers said Sunday that new artificial "skin" fashioned out of flexible semiconductor materials can sense touch, making it possible for robots to be able to grip eggs but be strong enough to hold a frying pan as well.
Scientists have been struggling with a way to try and make robots be able to adjust the amount of force needed to hold different objects. The pressure-sensitive materials are designed to help overcome that challenge.

Ali Javey, an electrical engineer at the University of California Berkeley, told The Associated Press (AP), "humans generally know how to hold a fragile egg without breaking it."

"If we ever wanted a robot that could unload the dishes, for instance, we'd want to make sure it doesn't break the wine glasses in the process. But we'd also want the robot to be able to grip a stock pot without dropping it," Javey, who led one of two teams reporting on artificial skin discoveries in the journal Nature Materials, said in a statement.

The team found a way to make ultra tiny "nanowires" out of an alloy of silicon and germanium. Materials from these wires were formed on the outside of a cylindrical drum depositing the wires in a uniform pattern.

A second team led by Zhenan Bao, a chemical engineer at Stanford University in California, made a material so sensitive it detects the weight of a butterfly resting on it.

Bao's sensors were made by sandwiching a highly elastic rubber layer between two electrodes in a regular grid of tiny pyramids.


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