Innovation That Matters

This sensor attaches to the forearm skin of a human and allows them to control a robotic system through their own muscle movements | Photo source Caltech

New artificial skin gives robots a sense of touch

Computing & Tech

The artificial skin will give robots the ability to sense temperature, pressure and toxic chemicals through touch

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Spotted: Human hands are generally soft and fleshy, while robotic limbs tend to be hard and metallic. But a new artificial skin developed by Wei Gao, assistant professor of medical engineering the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), could change the future of robotics as we know it. The printable skin developed in Gao’s lab is a gelatinous hydrogel embedded with sensors that will enable robotic fingertips to feel more human and detect the surrounding environment.

This new skin technology is part of a robotic platform that attaches to the forearm skin of a human and allows them to control a robotic system through their own muscle movements.

The use of sensitive artificial skin could be beneficial to many robotic applications from agriculture and security to environmental protection and manufacturing. “Can we also make them sense chemicals like explosives and nerve agents or biohazards like infectious bacteria and viruses? We’re working on this,” says Gao. “By optimising new inks and new materials, we hope this can be used for different kinds of targeted detections. We want to put it on more powerful robots and make them smarter, more intelligent.”

Funding for the research was provided by several bodies including the National Institutes of Health and NASA’s Translational Research Institute for Space Health.

Caltech’s latest design is just one of a string of haptic innovations for robotics. Springwise has spotted an artificial skin for robots that uses tiny vibrating magnets as well as a tech startup that lets users see, hear, and touch through a robot thousands of miles away.

Written By: Tracey Davis



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