Hairy robot

August 9, 2018, University of Texas at Arlington
Smart skin technology. Credit: University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington has patented a smart skin, created by a UTA researcher, that will give robots more sensitive tactile feeling than humans.

"The idea is to have robots work better alongside people," said Zeynep Çelik-Butler, a UTA electrical engineering professor. "The smart skin is actually made up of millions of flexible nanowire that take in so much more information than people's skin. As the sensors brush against a surface, the robot collects all the information those sensors send back."

Çelik-Butler said the sensors, which are flexible and made of zinc oxide nanorods, are self-powered and do not need any external voltage for operation. Each is about 0.2 microns in diameter, while a human hair is about 40 to 50 microns.

In addition, the developed sensors were fully packaged in a chemical and moisture resistant polyimide that greatly enhances usability in harsh environments. The result is a thin, flexible, self-powered tactile sensing layer, suitable as a robotic or prosthetic skin.

The smart skin technology allows the robots to sense temperature changes and surface variations, which would allow a person alongside the robot to be safer or react accordingly.

Other possible future applications include adhering the smart skin to prosthetics to equip them with some feeling, applying the technology to other medical devices, weaving the skin into the uniform of a combat soldier so that any toxic chemicals could be detected or fingerprint identification.

"These sensors are highly sensitive and if they were brushed over a partial fingerprint, the technology could help identify who that person is," Çelik-Butler said. "Imagine people being able to ascertain a person's identity with this hairy , as my students call it."

Teri Schultz, director of technology management in the UTA Office of Research, said the technology shows promise in a number of commercial sectors.

"Robots are the here and now," Schultz said. "We could see this develop with the next generation of robots to allow them to be more productive in helping people."

The research yielded an academic paper in a 2015 issue of IEEE Sensors Journal.

Explore further: Synthetic 'brainy skin' with sense of touch gets £1.5m funding

More information: Bhargav P. Nabar et al. Self-Powered Tactile Pressure Sensors Using Ordered Crystalline ZnO Nanorods on Flexible Substrates Toward Robotic Skin and Garments, IEEE Sensors Journal (2014). DOI: 10.1109/JSEN.2014.2337115

Related Stories

Robots could get 'touchy' with self-powered smart skin

April 13, 2016

Smart synthetic skins have the potential to allow robots to touch and sense what's around them, but keeping them powered up and highly sensitive at low cost has been a challenge. Now scientists report in the journal ACS Nano ...

E-whiskers may be touchstone for future of e-skin

June 25, 2018

Those cute little whiskers you see on your pet do more than just twitch adorably. The long, protruding hairs are actually touch receptors, sending vital information about the surroundings to the brain and helping the animals ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

Paleontologists report world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex

March 22, 2019

University of Alberta paleontologists have just reported the world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada. The 13-metre-long T. rex, nicknamed "Scotty," lived in prehistoric Saskatchewan ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.