Wed. Dec 6th, 2023
    New Skin-Like Sensor Allows Robotic Prostheses to Sense Their Environment

    Robotic prostheses have taken a significant step forward with the development of a cutting-edge e-skin that allows these devices to have a profound sense of touch and awareness of their surroundings. Scientists and engineers at the University of British Columbia have collaborated with Honda to create an elastomer skin for robotic prostheses that mimics human skin’s ability to perceive nuanced sensations. This breakthrough technology opens up endless possibilities for individuals with prosthetic devices, allowing them to perform a wider range of daily activities with precision and ease.

    The e-skin is highly sensitive, akin to real human skin, and enables robotic hands to execute tasks requiring exceptional dexterity and tactile feedback. By incorporating fixed and sliding pillars, the elastomer skin can buckle and wrinkle just like organic skin. This deformable capacitive sensor can differentiate between normal and shear forces, granting it the ability to finely control interactions with objects being grasped. As a result, robotic prostheses can delicately handle fragile items such as eggs or glasses of water without causing any damage.

    Furthermore, this groundbreaking technology holds promise for other applications beyond robotic prostheses. Medical or assistive robots, including those designed for eldercare or surgical procedures involving soft tissues, can benefit from the versatile capabilities of this new sensor. By using weak electric fields, similar to touchscreens, the e-skin can detect objects from a distance while remaining flexible enough to sense forces applied to its surface. This unique combination is crucial for the safe and efficient interaction between robots and humans.

    Although the current e-skin technology has its limitations in comparison to human skin, with further advancements in sensors and artificial intelligence, the possibilities are limitless. The researchers envision the evolution of sensors to become even more skin-like, capable of detecting temperature and damage. In turn, this requires robots to become smarter in prioritizing and responding to various sensory inputs. The collaboration between sensor development and AI will be pivotal in realizing the full potential of this new technology.


    What is an e-skin?

    E-skin, or electronic skin, refers to a flexible and stretchable electronic material that mimics the characteristics and functionality of human skin. It is used to enable robotic devices and prostheses to sense and interact with their environment.

    How does the e-skin work?

    The e-skin utilizes deformable capacitators that allow it to distinguish between different types of forces. By incorporating fixed and sliding pillars, similar to real skin, the e-skin can buckle and wrinkle. It can sense forces applied to its surface and provide essential tactile feedback for robotic devices.

    What are the potential applications of this technology?

    The technology has various applications, including enhancing robotic prostheses, medical robots for eldercare, and surgical robots interacting with soft tissues. The e-skin’s ability to sense and respond to tactile stimuli opens up possibilities for a wider range of daily activities and safer interactions between robots and humans.