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article imageArtificial skin promises enhanced perception

By Tim Sandle     Feb 1, 2019 in Science
For robotics to advance sufficiently to undertake a number of roles performed by humans, the ability for the robot to ‘sense’ the external environment needs to improve. As part of this, a ‘super-sensitive’ artificial skin has been developed.
The enhanced sensitivity comes via sensor which has been built to copy the sensing properties of skin to touch and to temperature. The sensor is described as ‘super-sensitive’ because it comes with several additional features, such as the ability to assess for hazards in ‘real-time’.
The development is a joint collaboration between the University of Connecticut and University of Toronto. The advancement not only helps with robotics (such as with helping prosthetic limbs to ‘feel’ and to send signals to the brain), it has the potential to be used to assist burns victim to recover.
A second feature with prosthetic limbs is having the ability to warn the person that a particular surface might be harmful, such as too hot or too cold. As well as temperature, the sensor is able to detect pressure and vibration.
These represent just the standard abilities of the skin-mimicking sensor. According to researcher Islam Mosa the sensor can do other things besides. As he tells Smart2Zero: “It would be very cool if it had abilities human skin does not. "For example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves, and abnormal behaviors."
Examples of these enhanced abilities include devising a smart multifaceted sensing platform to provide the foundation for a range of hazard preventive wearables and devices to assist with remote healthcare monitoring.
The prototype sensor has been built using a silicone tube encased in a copper wire and then filled with a fluid composed of iron oxide nanoparticles. The nanoparticles within the tube move around, which generates an electric current. Variations with the current are detected by the copper wire surrounding the tube.
When the tube is exposed to varying temperatures or when it is moved, the nanoparticles are also moved and this causes the electric signal to change. A further function is that sound waves similarly cause alterations to the nanoparticle fluid, which enables the sensor to detect vibration.
The sensor can also assess and interpret speed of movement, and it can distinguish between the different electrical signals produced by walking, running, jumping, and swimming.
The development of the sensor has been described in the journal Advanced Materials, with the paper titled “An Ultra‐Shapeable, Smart Sensing Platform Based on a Multimodal Ferrofluid‐Infused Surface.”
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