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Robots With Skin Enter Our Touchy-Feely World

By New Scientist

April 21, 2010

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One of the key missing components for humanoid robots is skin, which researchers say will help make them more socially accepted by facilitating the avoidance of accidental injury, among other things. In May, a team at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) will circulate to various labs the first components of a touch-sensitive skin for their iCub humanoid robot.

Constituting the skin are triangular, flexible printed circuit boards that function as sensors. An alternative skin under development at Peratech uses an elastic material called quantum tunneling composite, which facilitates the interpretation of touch with the impregnation of nanoparticles charged by an electrical current.

Meanwhile, Shadow Robot is about to test a human-like, touch-sensitive fingertip consisting of a fluid-filled sac and internal sensors that quantify vibration, pressure, and temperature. IIT roboticist Giorgio Metta says robot skin has to fulfill numerous criteria, including resilience, large surface area coverage, and sensitivity to even light tactile input anywhere on that surface.

From New Scientist
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