Building a better electronic touch

November 19, 2020

Two new studies introduce materials that improve the capabilities of electronic "touch," boosting the multimodality of artificial skin so that it more resembles the capabilities of human skin. Figuring out how to pack temperature, strain, and pressure sensing into an electronic skin without making it bulky or favoring one feature over another is a goal in designing wearable healthcare sensors, prostheses, and artificial skin for robots, among other applications. Insang You and colleagues move toward solving one problem in this field: detecting temperature and strain independently. Their deformable receptor film uses ion relaxation dynamics in the material to produce two separate measurements that allow temperature and strain signals to be collected without interfering with each other. Charge relaxation time is used to detect temperature, while capacitance is used to measure strain. The multimodal Ion-Electronic skin provides strain data through several touching motions, including shear, pinching, spreading, and twisting. In a second study, Sunghoon Lee and colleagues introduce a layered nanomesh sensor that can monitor finger manipulation, without affecting human sensation. Their material could help researchers learn more about the forces necessary to grasp an object without introducing an obstacle to natural touch such as bulky sensors. Lee et al.'s electrospun, nanoporous material can be applied directly to the fingertip to detect grasping pressure. The material is resistant to physical wear and did not affect sensorimotor processing during grasping, compared to a similarly thick polymer coating. Xinyu Liu discusses the possibilities of both materials in a related Perspective.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

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