Nov. 12, 2012 at 3:01 PM ET
Our robot helpers of the future may be able to judge our character by the strength of our handshakes thanks to a newly created synthetic skin that is both self-healing and sensitive to touch.
Long before the skin protects robots from the elements, it could give prosthetic limbs a sense of touch and lead to self-repairing electronics in hard-to-reach places such as inside walls, according to the engineers who created the material at Stanford University.
The breakthrough material begins with a plastic consisting of long chains of molecules joined by hydrogen bonds. The molecules easily break apart, but when they are reconnected, the bonds restore themselves – giving the material its self-healing quality.
To prove the point, the researchers cut the material with a scalpel 50 times. After gently pressing the sliced halves together for a few seconds, it was 75 percent healed. After 30 minutes, it was 100 percent restored.
The sense of touch comes with a sprinkling of silver nanoparticles throughout the material, making it stronger and electrically conductive – the current flows by hopping from one particle to the next similar to crossing a stream by hopping from stone to stone.
As the material is bent, twisted or pushed, the distance between stones changes and thus alters the material’s resistance. These changes can, in turn, be translated to information about pressure and tension in the skin, giving a robot, for example, a sense of the strength of a person’s handshake.
While other teams have been working on self-healing synthetic skin, this is first that heals itself repeatedly at room temperature and can conduct electricity, according to a Stanford news release.
A paper about the skin appeared in the Nov. 11 issue of Nature Nanotechnology.
– via Popular Science