Stretchable e-skin for human-level touch sensitivity

Stretchable e-skin for human-level touch sensitivity

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

A first-ever stretchy electronic skin could equip robots and other devices with the same softness and touch sensitivity as human skin

From the report:

The new stretchable e-skin, developed by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, solves a major bottleneck in the emerging technology. Existing e-skin technology loses sensing accuracy as the material stretches, but that is not the case with this new version.

“Much like human skin has to stretch and bend to accommodate our movements, so too does e-skin,” said Nanshu Lu, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics who led the project. “No matter how much our e-skin stretches, the pressure response doesn’t change, and that is a significant achievement.”

E-skin technology senses pressure from contact, letting the attached machine know how much force to use, for example, to grab a cup or touch a person. But, when conventional e-skin is stretched, it also senses that deformation. That reading creates additional noise that skews the sensors’ ability to sense the pressure. That could lead to a robot using too much force to grab something.

In demonstrations, the stretchability allowed the researchers to create inflatable probes and grippers that could change shape to perform a variety of sensitive, touch-based tasks. The inflated skin-wrapped probe was used on human subjects to capture their pulse and pulse waves accurately. The deflated grippers can conformably hold on to a tumbler without dropping it, even when a coin is dropped inside. The device also pressed on a crispy taco shell without breaking it.

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