Making Electronic Skin for Interactive Robots: New Materials & Advances

 NAO Humanoid Robot with multi-modal artificial skin, at the Institute for Cognitive Systems, TUM- Germany

News Release, Skin Aging & Challenges – July 19, 2022

Flexible electronics have huge potential to bring revolution in robotics and prosthetics as well as to bring about the next big evolution in the electronics industry. In robotics and related applications, it is expected to revolutionize the way with which machines interact with humans, real-world objects, and the environment.

The conformable electronic or tactile skin on robot’s body, enabled by advances in flexible electronics, will allow safe robotic interaction during physical contact of robot with various objects. Developing a conformable, bendable and stretchable electronic system requires distributing electronics over large non-planar surfaces and movable components.

The current research focus in this direction is marked by the use of novel materials or by the smart engineering of the traditional materials to develop new sensors, electronics on substrates that can be wrapped around curved surfaces. Attempts are being made to achieve flexibility/stretchability in e-skin while retaining a reliable operation.

Dahiya et al. provide insight into various materials that have been used in the development of flexible electronics primarily for e-skin applications.

In addition to mechanical robustness, the choice of the material is also influenced by the application. The use of smart structural engineering techniques would enable the use of well-established silicon technology to develop flexible and stretchable e-skin sensors. Furthermore, sensors developed via these technique would enable better system integration thus aiding easy integration with circuits of data collection, signal condition and processing of the received data.

Novel materials such as nanowires, carbon nanotubes and graphene exhibit excellent mechanical and electrical properties which are critical parameters for the development of e-skin sensors.

In addition to passive sensors, developed via various transduction mechanisms, development of transistors using the novel material are highly desirable as it would enable the development of active circuit matrix for large-scale sensing with low power consumption. It will also enable easier readout circuit and individual access to devices. Development of Field Effect Transistor using the novel material is challenging due to various aspects. 

Organic materials are also desirable for the development of flexible components for e-skin due to low cost. 

In conclusion, recent developments have led to e-skin sensors exceeding sensitivity of human skins in terms of detection of human skin. Although there are many issues yet to be addressed, the progress in the development trend in e-skin suggest that humanoid equipped with flexible and stretchable will be possible in near future.

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