Stanford University scientists have developed a way for artificial skin to not only respond, but be just as sensitive as the real deal.
Skin sensation, say something as light as a fly touching down on an arm or hand, has always been the holy grail of synthetic skin creation. Problems in field always revolved around the fact that while science could make a tight, thin sheet of detector skin, any pressure on said skin would deform it and not allow it to quickly (or at all) return to its original shape.
This skin was almost always of rubber, but no matter how thin science made it, or how lightly they pressed, deformation was always the result.
No longer, thanks to Stanford U’s science spectacular. Professor Zhenan Bao and his team have created a thin rubber compound that can not only feel, but look good doing it. He and his team started by creating the ubiquitous thin rubber sheet, then layering it with another one. They also changed the surface structure of the sheet from flat and smooth to pyramidal. In addition, they went ahead and strung the sheet up between two electrodes, which then imparts a charge, much like a battery, to the rubber sheet. When pressure is applied to the sheet, the amount of charge the battery can store changes, and this is translated into “touch”.
This new rubber skin is able to quickly reset to its original configuration once pressure is released, and is able to sense even a 20 milligram Bluebottle fly touching down on the new skin’s surface.So light: so gentle. But we feel it!
Researchers envision the skin as having potential use in both artificial limb applications as well as pressure sensors for vehicles. There has also been talk of using the skin for robots, which while a sensible bet right at the outset leads us to visions of hordes of mechanical men whose pleas we cannot ignore when they complain of heavy work because we gave them skin that hurt. What’s next, giving them ways to bleed out fluid? Still, this new skin and sensing method may give hope that those who have lost a limb will still be able to feel something more than the cold touch of metal coated in plastic. Science – comforting and frightening at the same time.