A team from the University of Edinburgh said the devices could aid people’s mobility or provide support for surgical procedures by pinpointing their movement in the most sensitive environments.
The stretchable e-skin used on soft robots gives them a level of physical self-awareness similar to that of humans and animals.
Soft robots are often made of flexible materials rather than metal or plastic, and can have a range of applications, including e-skin, surgical instruments, prosthetics, and devices for exploring hazardous environments.
“Perceptual senses gained by new technology are similar to those of humans and animals”
Leading the study, the University’s Faculty of Engineering Dr. Yunjie Yang uses the following expressions:
“The perceptual senses that this new technology brings to robotic devices are similar to those of humans and animals. This new level of physical self-awareness represents a major shift in the sensing capabilities of soft robots.”
Unlike conventional robots, which have a certain range of motion, soft robots are flexible.
This poses a major challenge in developing the sensing systems required for robots to perform sensitive tasks and interact safely with humans and the environment, the researchers say.
First team to develop technology that provides sensing capabilities
Without e-skin, it is difficult for soft robots to understand their own movements and shapes and how these features interact with their environment.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are the first team to tackle this challenge and develop technology that provides soft robots with highly sensitive, real-time sensing capabilities.
The team tested the e-skin by attaching it to a soft robot arm. They found that the technology could detect a complex series of twisting, flexing, and twisting movements in every part of the device.
The University of Hong Kong was also featured in the study, published in the academic journal Nature Machine Intelligence.
Also from the Faculty of Engineering, one of the leaders of the study, Dr. Francesco Giorgio-Serchi says:
“The flexibility of the technology we have developed means that it can be applied to a variety of soft robots to enable them to accurately sense their own shape and movement. Ultimately, this means we are now closer to realizing some of the most exciting ideas in soft robotics.”
Researchers have previously used three-dimensional printing technologies to give robots a sense of touch through artificial skin.
Last year, a team from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) developed a type of electronic skin that allows robots to sense temperature, pressure, and even toxic chemicals.