Robots Could Get A Self-Powered Smart Skin Upgrade

Robots can be fashioned with all sorts of technology to make them smarter, more durable, and more efficient than humans, and now that even applied to their skin.

Smart synthetic skins could allow robots to touch and sense what’s around them, as well as keep them charged.

Scientists from Peking University in China have reported the development of a self-powered, transparent smart skin that is simpler and less expensive than many other versions that have been developed previously.

The team's transparent smart skin can detect a bee landing on it. (Image Credit: American Chemical Society)
The team’s transparent smart skin can detect a bee landing on it. (Image Credit: American Chemical Society)

The technology, which could be applied not only to robots, but also to prostheses could offer a human-like sense of touch. In addition to these initial findings, the team has come up with other kinds of smart skins, equipped with increased numbers of electrodes, that can be layered on devices in order to boost sensitivity. Other similar systems typically require external batteries and wires to operate.

Lead researcher, Haixia Zhang and his colleagues created a smart skin out of ultra-thin plastic films and just four electrodes made from silver nanowires. Other prototypes contain up to 36 electrodes. One component harvests mechanical energy, generated by actions like the movement of a prosthetic hand’s fingers, and turns it into an electric current. This energy harvesting technique would eliminate the need for an external power source.

The team’s tests showed that the skin was highly sensitive and could even “feel” a honeybee as it flew toward and away from the device. It also demonstrated electrical stability, maintaining the same level of output over 30,000 cycles.

The team’s research is published in the paper, “Self-Powered Analogue Smart Skin,” which was published in ACS Nano.

Story via American Chemical Society.

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