Electronic skin could help robots get in touch with their feelings

A new synthetic skin could create more affordable prosthetic limbs and robots that can imitate the sense of touch.

The touch-sensitive covering is made from graphene. Graphene is a single atom thick, stronger than steel, conductive, and transparent. This transparency makes it ideal for gathering energy from the sun to generate power.

Our robotic hand interacts with objects using tiny solar cells. The cells generate the energy to power and control the hand’s movements. And also provide its unique sense of ‘touch’ without using expensive touch sensors.

The skin is capable of detecting the shape of an incoming object using a second set of simple LEDs. By measuring the time light takes to reflect from an object, the skin can calculate an object’s proximity, location, and edges. This replicates much of the measurements made by more traditional touch sensors. And allows the hand to grasp objects placed in front of it.

Professor Dahiya and our Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) Group leads the latest development in electronic skin

“Touch-sensitive electronic skin has found many experimental applications in prosthetics and robotics. But our project is the first capable of offering touch feedback without using dedicated touch sensors".

“That lack of sensors means the skin requires no conventional power source to work. In fact, the skin itself is the source of energy, capable of powering the hand and devices attached to it. The generated power can be stored in devices such as flexible supercapacitors. So it doesn’t have to be always to exposed to the sun to work".

“It’s one step closer to a completely self-powered prosthetic. All wrapped in flexible skin made from pretty inexpensive components. The sensing capabilities built into the skin could even lead to skin that can ‘see’. Further refinements could help identify approaching objects even before they make contact ”.

“We also experimented adding the hand to the end of a robot arm (like those found in car manufacturing). Sensors are capable of stop

EEE Transactions on Robotics paper: ‘Energy Generating Electronic Skin With Intrinsic Tactile Sensing Without Touch Sensors