Electronic skin senses touch

Someday, robots swathed in pressure-sensitive electronics may feel their environment. That’s the vision of Japanese researchers who have laminated a rubbery, pressure-sensing membrane onto a flexible layer of plastic transistors to create a primitive artificial skin.

GIMME SOME SKIN. Flexible sheets of plastic transistors–shown here on a nonfunctional mock-up–may eventually provide robots with a sense of touch. Someya

Engineers Takao Someya and Takayasu Sakurai of the University of Tokyo have demonstrated that pressing the tip of a thin metal bar against this faux skin generates a weak electric signal at the point of contact. They described their new material on Dec. 8, 2003, at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting in Washington, D.C.

To make the film as skinlike as possible, the researchers designed its transistor layer for maximum flexibility. That electronic layer can be curled around a lollipop stick and still work, Someya claims.

Challenges ahead include making the transistors work more consistently under varying environmental conditions and reducing the voltages at which the transistors operate, the researchers say. Also, to make the film more like real skin, the team plans to add temperature sensors to the now touch-sensitive film, Sakurai says.


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