The aim to make robots as human-like as possible with the likes of artificial intelligence is in full swing, and researchers have now created a 3D printed, stretchable bionic skin which will allow the machines to sense objects through touch.
Initially, the skin will be used on surgical devices to benefit medical professionals who are using machines for micro-surgery.
But down the line it will also be used for electronics printed on human skin in applications such as health monitors and for soldiers to detect dangerous chemicals or explosives.
Michael McAlpine, a University of Minnesota mechanical engineering associate professor and lead researcher on the study, said: "This stretchable electronic fabric we developed has many practical uses.
Bionic skin that gives robots a sense of touch has been created
"Putting this type of 'bionic skin' on surgical robots would give surgeons the ability to actually feel during minimally invasive surgeries, which would make surgery easier instead of just using cameras like they do now.
“These sensors could also make it easier for other robots to walk and interact with their environment.”
He added: “While we haven't printed on human skin yet, we were able to print on the curved surface of a model hand using our technique.
“These sensors could make it easier for other robots to walk and interact with their environment"
"We also interfaced a printed device with the skin and were surprised that the device was so sensitive that it could detect your pulse in real time."
The device is created by four nozzles on a 3D printer which create the layers of the device.
Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA
The 3D printed touch sensors
There is a base layer of silicone, top and bottom electrodes made from conducting ink, a coil-shaped pressure sensor, and a sacrificial layer that holds the top layer in place while it sets and washes away later on.
Mr McAlpine said: “This is a completely new way to approach 3D printing of electronics.
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"We have a multifunctional printer that can print several layers to make these flexible sensory devices.
“This could take us into so many directions from health monitoring to energy harvesting to chemical sensing.”
He concluded: "The possibilities for the future are endless.”