A team of engineers has developed a new artificial skin that gets bruised whenever it gets hit. It may prove to be a valuable medical tool or a means to check your progress when you dealing with robots (either friend or foe) in the near future.
Beyond The Concept Of E-Skin
The breakthrough was first conceived by Chinese researchers and recently detailed by the American Chemical Society. It works by using ionic signals as a conductive hydrogel that exceeds many capabilities of electronic skins, at least when it comes to biocompatibility and elasticity.
Thanks to a molecule called “spiropyran”, it can change color from pale yellow to blue when pressed hard. But after about five hours, the discoloration slowly returns to its original color. In other words, the damage heals.
To demonstrate the concept, the scientist glued the ionic hydrogen material (“I-skin”) to different parts of the respondents’ bodies. They found out that stretching and bending caused electric signals to change, but didn’t hurt the artificial skin enough to form bruises.
Bruising As Means Of Alerting
The reason for developing artificial skin is to mimic the look and feel of actual human skin; it’s commonly used in prosthetics and robotics. Depending on the design, additional sensors can be equipped to enhance its sensing capabilities when it comes in contact with a surface.
Going forward, these artificial skins may also feature a “bruising action” whenever it receives a “hard enough” strike. Unlike a person who can immediately feel the pain when bumping onto a hard edge, a robot can’t report when one of its limbs has been struck, resulting in further damages if left unattended.
True Robotic Camouflage In Artificial Skin
Artificial skin has a great potential in wearable device applications and for gentle robotics, creating humanlike androids who can get hurt and “feel” when struck or bumped into something.
Though you won’t find this tech in actual prosthetics and robots [just yet], the development may one day be a real thing, in real applications. It’s also unclear whether sensing capabilities will be added to the material to allow bots to feel when they’re touched.
For now, the artificial skin is still in the proof-of-concept phase. The researchers at Hong Kong University were able to demonstrate a promising breakthrough, but they were only able to create small samples, so actual limbs, or Terminator-like robots that are entirely coated with the material, won’t exist just yet. How this artificial skin will work on different skin tones also remains a mystery. Nonetheless, it’s a great leap forward for prosthetics and robotics, allowing those who lack sensory feedback to know where they might be hurt.
Artificial Skin – Other Attempts Made
A Russian company called Promobot has developed special polymers to sculpt the next generation androids. The malleable rubber was used for “dressing” the metallic parts of the robots and the results were somewhat disturbing. Long ago, no one could have ever imagined that robots would be so damn realistic.
Researchers at National University of Singapore have also joined the fray. They invented a foam, called AiFoam, that allows androids to feel objects. It featured artificial nerves and can also repair itself when damaged.
It still too early to say when hyper-realistic robots will be present among human beings. Until that happens, we could only imagine what the future will be like with bots created with our image and likeness.