Koreans develop tactile robot skin

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Koreans develop tactile robot skin

Soon, robots may be able to feel the touch of humans.

A team of Korean scientists has developed a highly flexible and stretchable strain sensor that can eventually be applied to robots as a kind of skin to facilitate tactile sensing.

While robots’ abilities to see and hear have nearly approached the level of humans, touch remains a difficult hurdle. Most robots still achieve tactile sensing through motorized means, which can be bulky and rigid. To apply skin similar to that of humans on robots, advanced skin sensor technology is required.

Five scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have developed a soft nanocomposite material with a multiwall carbon nanotube and silicone elastomer that can detect both contact force and location. The material is plastic and can be formed in various three-dimensional shapes while covering a large area.

“The proposed sensor has a great potential to be used as a soft human-machine interface,” wrote Prof. Park In-kyu in a paper published in Scientific Reports, an open-access journal from Nature, on Jan. 25.

The scientists used a method called anisotropic electrical impedance tomography to compute multidimensional resistivity distribution within the sensor. This helps the skin accurately identify where and how strong a force is being applied to the surface.

The paper demonstrated how the skin’s soft nanocomposite material could be injected into a 3D-printed plastic mold. The skin is strong enough to endure external shock as great as a hammer. Even if part of the sensor is destroyed, it is reusable after it is refilled with a multiwall carbon nanotube and hardened.

The study received financial support from the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.

BU SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]
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