Scientists from EPFL (Switzerland) developed a soft artificial skin that provides a sense of touch and has the ability to adapt to the movements of the wearer; Paving the way for the use of this new technology in a wide range of applications, from medical rehabilitation to virtual reality.
Just like vision and hearing, the sense of touch plays an important role in perception and interaction with our environment; and therefore any technology can emulate the sense of touch (haptic feedback), it can also greatly improve the interfaces human-computer and human-robot for a wide range of applications.
Scientists in the Reconfigurable Robotics Lab (RRL) and the Laboratory for Soft Bioelectronic Interfaces (LSBI) of EPFL, led by Jamie Pike and Stephanie Lakur respectively, collaborated to develop a soft, flexible artificial skin from silicone and electrodes.
The system of soft sensors and actuators provided with this artificial skin allows it to be adapted to the exact shape of e.g. the wrist of the one that wears it and provide haptic feedback in the form of pressure and vibration. Pressure sensors continuously measure skin deformation, so that the touch sensation is constantly changed and as realistic as possible.
The relevant research was posted at “Soft Robotics”.
”This is the first time we have been developing a completely soft artificial skin where both sensors and actuators are integrated.”
Says Harsal Sonar, lead author of the investigation.
”This gives us closed circuit control, which means that we can accurately and reliably regulate the vibrational stimulation that the user feels. It is ideal for wearable applications “.
The artificial skin contains soft actuators/pneumatic motors that form a layer-membrane that can be inflated with air. The motors can be adjusted to various pressures and frequencies, with the skin vibrating when the membrane inflates and deflates quickly. A layer of sensors is located on the membrane, containing soft electrodes, which measure the extent of the deformation and transmit the data to a microcontroller. These elements are used to control the sensation that is transmitted to the one who wears the artificial skin, depending on the movements and changes in the external factors.
The artificial skin can be stretched to a length of four times its normal for a million ”circles”, which makes it ideal for many practical applications in the real world.