New Smart Skin Technology Gives Robots the Sense of Touch


Researchers at the University of Texas in Arlington patented a sensitive skin that can be used by robots for detection. / Photo by: EMBaero via Wikimedia Commons


A smart skin technology that will give robots highly sensitive skin has been patented by the University of Texas at Arlington. The technology is composed of flexible sensors that provide a more sensitive tactile feedback.

According to UTA’s website, the school’s researcher credited with the invention used zinc-oxide nanorods to create the sensors. Each nanorod is about 0.2 micron in diameter, significantly smaller than a human hair that is 40 to 50 microns thick. The nanorods make it possible for newer robots to detect their surroundings using more than the standard tactile feedback.

“The idea is to have robots work better alongside people,” said Zeynep Çelik-Butler, an electrical engineering professor at UTA. “The smart skin is actually made up of millions of flexible nanowire sensors that take in so much more information than people’s skin.”

Unlike other sensors that mimic the sense of touch, the ones in the smart skin do not require external voltage to operate. Instead, they are self-powered. They can also withstand harsh conditions because they are made of chemical- and moisture-resistant polyimide, a strong synthetic polymer known for toughness against heat and chemicals.

The sensors can be integrated into robotic units to enable the artificial bodies to sense changes in temperature and variations of surface and to safely interact with humans. Future robot models with smart skin are expected to be more effective in aiding people.

Smart skin is not only for robots but can also be applied onto prostheses to give back to amputees the sense of touch in the body part that they have lost, on medical devices or uniform of soldiers to detect particular compounds.

“These sensors are highly sensitive, and if they were brushed over a partial fingerprint, the technology can help identify who that person is,” Çelik-Butler added.