Robot skin stretches to the task

October 22, 2003

THE skin of a robot has to fulfil two apparently opposing needs: it must be elastic enough to lend the robot human-like dexterity, and yet carry enough wiring to allow it to sense its environment.

If engineers connect the robot's sensors to metal wires these will break when the skin stretches. An emerging answer might be to embed a broad corrugated metal film in an elastic covering instead.

Electrical engineers Sigurd Wagner and Stephanie Lacour at Princeton University have developed a kind of connector incorporating broad metal strips that, unlike wires, can stretch up to twice their length and still conduct electricity. They think it will be ideal for use in robot skin.

Metal films are normally quite brittle, snapping when stretched more than 1 per cent of their length. Wagner and Lacour say their elastic metal film connectors- based on gold film just 25 nanometres thick- can stretch by at least 15 per cent in the rubbery silicone membrane in which they are embedded. This is because the gold film is corrugated, so it can be flattened out or compressed and still conduct electricity.

And it stretches even more than they expected. A mystery Wagner and Lacour can't yet explain is how some of their contacts conduct even when stretched to twice their original length. Wagner speculates that the ribbons might break apart when pulled too far- but that points on the torn golden shards still remain in contact with each other and conduct (see Graphic).

The researchers plan to demonstrate their connectors at a robotics conference next week in Las Vegas, Nevada, and hope soon to have a handmade elastic circuit they can blow up like a balloon. Wagner says their conducting skins could allow sensors to be placed all over a robot's body. "The goal is to enable robots to become cautious," he says, as the droids will be more aware of their environments.

A factor hampering progress, the pair say, is the sheer pliability of their strip-like connector devices, which are proving difficult to handle owing to the extreme flimsiness of their first prototypes. They hope to develop an automated way of fabricating a conducting robot skin within three years.
-end-
Author: Charles Choi

New Scientist issue: 25th October 2003

PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE OF THIS STORY AND, IF PUBLISHING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A HYPERLINK TO: http://www.newscientist.com

"These articles are posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to quote extracts as part of fair dealing with this copyrighted material. Full attribution is required, and if publishing online a link to www.newscientist.com is also required. Advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full - please contact celia.thomas@rbi.co.uk. Please note that all material is copyright of Reed Business Information Limited and we reserve the right to take such action as we consider appropriate to protect such copyright."

UK CONTACT - Claire Bowles, New Scientist Press Office, London:
Tel: 44-207-331-2751 or email claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk
US CONTACT - Michelle Soucy, New Scientist Boston Office:
Tel: 617-558-4939 or email michelle.soucy@newscientist.com

New Scientist

Related Sensors Articles from Brightsurf:

OPD optical sensors that reproduce any color
POSTECH Professor Dae Sung Chung's team uses chemical doping to freely control the colors of organic photodiodes.

Airdropping sensors from moths
University of Washington researchers have created a sensor system that can ride aboard a small drone or an insect, such as a moth, until it gets to its destination.

How to bounce back from stretched out stretchable sensors
Elastic can stretch too far and that could be problematic in wearable sensors.

New mathematical tool can select the best sensors for the job
In the 2019 Boeing 737 Max crash, the recovered black box from the aftermath hinted that a failed pressure sensor may have caused the ill-fated aircraft to nose dive.

Lighting the way to porous electronics and sensors
Researchers from Osaka University have created porous titanium dioxide ceramic thin films, at high temperatures and room temperature.

Russian scientists to improve the battery for sensors
Researchers of Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU) approached the creation of a solid-state thin-film battery for miniature devices and sensors.

Having an eye for colors: Printable light sensors
Cameras, light barriers, and movement sensors have one thing in common: they work with light sensors that are already found in many applications.

Improving adhesives for wearable sensors
By conveniently and painlessly collecting data, wearable sensors create many new possibilities for keeping tabs on the body.

Kirigami inspires new method for wearable sensors
As wearable sensors become more prevalent, the need for a material resistant to damage from the stress and strains of the human body's natural movement becomes ever more crucial.

Wearable sensors detect what's in your sweat
A team of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, is developing wearable skin sensors that can detect what's in your sweat.

Read More: Sensors News and Sensors Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.