Brainy skin paves the way for the next generation of sensitive robots

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Researchers at Glasgow University are working on the development of so-called synthetic brainy skin that they claim could one day be used to make more responsive prosthetics for amputees, or to build robots with a sense of touch

brainy skin
A robotic arm equipped with prototype smart skin

The University’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) team plans to develop ultra-flexible, synthetic skin that mimics the behaviour of human skin, which has its own neurons that respond immediately to touch rather than having to relay the whole message to the brain.

Led by Prof Ravinder Dahiya the so-called neuPRINTSKIN (Neuromorphic Printed Tactile Skin) project is building on earlier e-skin research by developing electronic ‘thinking skin’ made from silicon based printed neural transistors and graphene.

Prof Dahiya said: “By adding a neural layer underneath the current tactile skin, neuPRINTSKIN will add significant new perspective to the e-skin research, and trigger transformations in several areas such as robotics, prosthetics, artificial intelligence, wearable systems, next-generation computing, and flexible and printed electronics.

“Human skin is an incredibly complex system capable of detecting pressure, temperature and texture through an array of neural sensors that carry signals from the skin to the brain.

“Inspired by real skin, this project will harness the technological advances in electronic engineering to mimic some features of human skin, such as softness, bendability and now, also sense of touch. This skin will not just mimic the morphology of the skin but also its functionality.

He added that the development of smart skin will be critical for the development of autonomous robots and for safer human-robot interaction.