14 September 2010

Electric Skin Rivals the Real Thing

The tactile sensitivity of human skin is hard to re-create, especially over large, flexible surfaces. But two California research groups have made pressure-sensing devices that significantly advance the state of the art. One, made by researchers at Stanford University, is based on organic electronics and is 1,000 times more sensitive than human skin. The second, made by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, uses integrated arrays of nanowire transistors and requires very little power. Both devices are flexible and can be printed over large areas.

Highly sensitive surfaces could help robots pick up delicate objects without breaking them, give prosthetics a sense of touch, and give surgeons finer control over tools used for minimally invasive surgery. Their goal is to mimic the human skin, which responds quickly to pressure, and can detect objects as small as a grain of sand and light as an insect. This approach can be used to make flexible materials with inexpensive printing techniques, but the resulting device requires high voltages to operate.

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