Skin in the game – if you’re a robot

Imagine meeting a robot one day.  A friendly robot.  It whirs and beeps and blinks a bit, and then sticks out a robotic hand.  “Hello, human.  It is a pleasure to meet you.”  Very cool.

And then.  “Ouch!”  That’s you, as your new robotic friend gives you a vice-like, mechanical squeeze/hand shake.  Not so cool.

Now though, there may be a fix for that:  e-skin.

The latest version of e- (for “electronic”) skin, is being developed at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  It’s made of very thin, very supple, polymer called polyimine – reinforced with silver nanoparticles for strength – with sensors for pressure, humidity, temperature (so the “skin” knows what it is doing).

And while shaking hands with a robot would be cool, there is much more this skin could do.  It could, for example, allow robots to perform a wide range of delicate tasks, even perhaps, checking a child’s forehead for fever (because it could sense the heat if there was a temperature, and could touch gently so the child would be safe).  The same skin could be used on a prosthetic limb, to give a human user all the same benefits of a finer touch.

E-skin won’t feel like our skin – but to a remarkable degree, e-skin will be able to function like our skin – sending the same messages to an e-brain or our brain:  this is hot, this is cold, hold this tighter, hold this gently.

This latest e-skin even has the ability to heal itself (with a little chemical help), so if it does get a cut, you won’t have to worry about your robot rummaging around under the sink for a bandage.

Since it is an artificial skin, it can also be recycled – which might sound a little weird, but makes this more environmentally-friendly, and less expensive to produce.

And, do we need to mention it?  The polymer (the cool word for “plastic”) is made possible by the petrochemical para-xylene. (which in turn is made from oil).

So someday soon, if you run into C3PO on the street, you’ll be able to high five him.  Safely.

Click here to read more about what’s new, what’s next and what it means for you.

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