New Material Could Give Robots ‘Skin’ with a Sense of Touch

July 15, 2021 | 2 minutes read

A new electronic material has been developed by a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS), which would help enable robots to touch and sense physical objects. 

The material is known as Asynchronous Coded Electronic Skin (ACES), and it is an artificial nervous system. It can be synced with any type of sensor skin layer to provide responsiveness and sensitivity. It works by collecting information from around the body, and sending it to the computer controlling the robot.

The first time the development of electronic skin was reported was back in July 2019, at the prestigious scientific journal Science Robotics, by Assistant Professor Benjamin Tee and his team from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the NUS.

According to Assistant professor Benjamin Tee, “Humans use our sense of touch to accomplish almost every daily task, such as picking up a cup of coffee or making a handshake. Without it, we will even lose our sense of balance when walking. Similarly, robots need to have a sense of touch in order to interact better with humans, but robots today still cannot feel objects very well.” 

The researchers got their inspiration from the human nervous system, and after a year and half of research and hardwork, were able to successfully design a nervous system that could perform better than humans potentially. 

Though the technology operates by detecting signals like the human brain does, unlike never bundles in human skin, it is developed using multiple sensors that are connected through a single electrical conductor.

It is also different from the electronic skis that already exist since they have interlinked wiring systems that cause them to  be sensitive to damage.

“Scalability is a critical consideration as big pieces of high performing electronic skins are required to cover the relatively large surface areas of robots and prosthetic devices,” explained Asst Prof Tee. “ACES can be easily paired with any kind of sensor skin layers, for example, those designed to sense temperatures and humidity, to create high performance ACES-enabled electronic skin with an exceptional sense of touch that can be used for a wide range of purposes,” he added.