Modeled after human skin this new silicon sensor layer will give robots a more gentle touch. Via TechCrunch:
Robots increasingly have to interact with ordinary (that is to say, human-focused) objects and environments, and part of that is imitating the extremely delicate and complex human grip. A new type of electronic skin allows a robot to feel not just the pressure from its grip, but whether and in what direction an object is sliding or slipping.
In order to make a sensor that detects this type of movement, University of Washington researchers took human fingers for inspiration. When you slide your finger along something (or vice versa), the friction causes one side of that finger to become a bit more taut, while the other bulges out a bit. That’s not really how we experience shear force, but it is a good phenomenon to take advantage of for robotic purposes.
The team created a silicone skin that can sit over an ordinary robotic appendage and not interfere with its pressure sensors or the like. On each side of the “finger” are tiny channels cut into the material and filled with a conductive liquid metal. As the finger moves and the skin deforms, it causes the channels to change shape, compressing or stretching out. This changes their electrical properties, which are constantly tracked.