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Controlling robots through electronic 'skin'

Computing & Tech

Packed with sensors, wireless transmitters, and tiny vibrating magnets, the skin provides haptic feedback to the user

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Spotted: Scientists have created a flexible electronic ‘skin’ that allows a user to remotely control a robot. The skin works intuitively through natural body movements, unlike existing robot control systems – which are often cumbersome to use.

Attached to various body parts, the patches of skin record the user’s movements and then transmit them to robotic devices. The skin is also packed with tiny vibrating magnets that provide haptic feedback.

The research was published in Science Advances and builds on rapid advances in flexible electronics. Specifically, the technology uses piezoresistive materials, which react to changes in electrical resistivity when mechanical strain is applied. When a patch is attached to a user’s joint, there will be a change in resistance corresponding to the angle at which the joint is bent. 

The system’s sensors are connected to a central microcontroller via copper wires. Voltage signals from the sensors are then sent via Bluetooth, either directly to the robot, or via a computer which can relay information over the internet.

Signals from sensors on the robot are, in turn, transmitted back to the electronic skin where the magnets vibrate at different frequencies depending on how much pressure is applied. Trials demonstrated the quality of feedback allowed users to distinguish between cubes of rubber with varying levels of hardness. Moreover, feedback signals were transmitted in as little as 4 microseconds via Bluetooth and 350 microseconds over a local Wi-Fi network. Both results go way beyond the 550 microseconds that it takes for humans to react to tactile stimuli.

The research team behind the project was composed of researchers from City University of Hong Kong, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Springwise has previously spotted other robot control systems including one developed by UK company Cyberselves – which lets users see, touch, and here through a robot thousands of miles away.

Written By: Katrina Lane



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