Robots could soon have skin that senses how things feel, just like humans.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have come up with a way of 3D-printing "stretchable electronic sensory devices," aka the things that would allow robots to feel stuff.
According to Michael McAlpine, a U of M professor and the lead researcher on the project, they've only printed the "unique sensing fabric" on a model hand so far. Not on real skin.
But in tests, the researchers determined the devices to be so sensitive they actually could detect a human pulse in real time.
You can read all about the project here, and watch the printing process below:
So what could we do with this?
“The possibilities for the future are endless,” McAlpine said in a statement.
Like we mentioned above, this could be used to create robots that physically feel things like humans – so in the future, if robots are just walking around and you touch one of them, it'll know.
In a more practical sense, the skin could be used on surgical robots so that doctors could feel what's going on, rather than relying on cameras.
It could also be printed on real human skin. Like if it's printed on soldiers, it could monitor their health and detect dangerous chemicals or explosives.
The skin could potentially be ready to use fairly soon.
“With most research, you discover something and then it needs to be scaled up. Sometimes it could be years before it ready for use,” McAlpine said. “This time, the manufacturing is built right into the process so it is ready to go now.”
Researchers say they're going to try making a few adjustments, and then it's time to try printing on a real body.