The original concept of human-like robots
The idea of a robot with human-like features has been around for decades. All of us have seen the movie Terminator and have some idea about what a robot resembling humans would presumably look like. Many conspiracy theorists assume that a robot with artificial intelligence and resembling humans could be dangerous for the human race. However, conspiracies aside, the concept of human look-alike robots is fascinating to all.
The people behind the concept
Thanks to the researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), this fantasy about robots might soon come into existence. According to the research, Robots can be designed with artificial soft skin with flexible electronics. This quality could significantly improve the sensitivity of robots to their environment.
By programming the electronics used in robots to become more flexible and straining them into artificially soft skin prepared from stretchable polymers, the field of robotics can be significantly enhanced with the creation of much more surrounding sensitive robots.
This research was originally published as “Toward programmable materials for wearable electronics: electrical welding turns sensors into conductors” in Advanced Electronic Materials.
How does it make the robot more sensitive?
According to Gilles Lubineau, the head researcher of this project: a network of strain sensors and flexible electronics will enable the robots to provide sensory feedback via their artificial soft skin to easily navigate their surroundings. To describe his research he uses the analogy of an animal stretching a limb. When an animal uses its limbs to stretch, their peripheral nervous system including their nerves and sensors in their skin give feedback to their central nervous system in the brain, which helps the animal orient its limb to interact with its environment.
Using flexible electronics as sensors
Ragesh Chellattoan, a Ph.D. student and a member of the research team, elucidated the drawback in the researches conducted regarding flexible sensors. The researchers conducted up until now have used relatively costly and complicated materials. Different materials had been used to make the sensing and conductive wiring parts in their fabrication process. So in their research, they have a new objective to reduce the costs by using the same material to get both sensing and wiring connectivity.
The research team has designed a new artificial material that is a flexible polymer with silver nanowires implanted inside. Although individual nanowire is conductive, when these nanowires are joined, the conduction is significantly reduced due to high resistance at the junctions. While stretching and flexing this material, the nanowires are pulled away from each piece. As a result, the resistance between each crease and the whole nanowire network behaves in a similar way as a strain sensor.
Practicality and Usage
Although still being researched and not yet perfected, this material could have high value in the future when the nanowires can be welded to different forms. It has huge potential not just in robots but also in wearable electronic devices.