MONDAY, Sept. 13 (HealthDay News) --Sure, industrial robots can
toss around 10-ton car parts with the greatest of ease. But can
they do the dishes?
Maybe so, say researchers, but you'd need one with "skin" --
that is, with appendages using a pressure-sensitive technology that
allow them to adjust to the differing amounts of force needed to
handle everything from a heavy NASCAR engine to a delicate
Now a team led by Ali Javey, an associate professor of
electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of
California, Berkeley, says they are working on just that:
developing a flexible, touch-sensitive, futuristic artificial skin
out of wholly inorganic semiconductors.
Dubbed the "e-skin", the technology is made up of hair-thin
miniaturized strips of low-voltage nanowire transistors based on
entirely inorganic materials such as crystalline silicon.
"The idea is to have a material that functions like the human skin, which means incorporating the ability to feel and touch objects," Javey said in a news release .
Javey and his UC team report on the progress of their work on
e-skin in the current advanced online edition of the journal
Using an innovative fabrication technique, Javey and his team
rolled and "printed" nanowires onto bendable sheets of poylimide
film, in an effort to create 18 by 19 pixel square matrixes
comprised of hundreds of semiconductor nanowires. The process was
compared to a lint roller in reverse, which, rather than picking up
fibers, deposited nanowire "hairs" onto a sticky substrate.
In turn, these seven-centimeter-thick squares were then
integrated with a thin pressure-sensitive rubber material.
The final product: an artificial skin fashioned into glove-like
proportions that runs on less than five volts of power and can
detect a range of pressure suitable for anything from typing on a
keyboard to holding an object.
To date, testing shows that the e-skin can maintain
functionality even after 2000 bending cycles, the authors
Javey and his colleagues hope that the innovation could
eventually be developed to help restore a sense of touch to
patients with prosthetic limbs.
This long-range goal, however, would require many more major
technological advances in order to enable researchers to integrate
e-skin sensors with an individual's nervous system.
Meanwhile, the team will continue its work, funded in part by
the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency, to refine its electronic skin for a range of
"It's a technique that can be potentially scaled up," post-doctoral fellow and study lead author Kuniharu Takei said in the release. "The limit now to the size of the e-skin we developed is the size of the processing tools we are using."
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