Scientists develop soft robot with stretchy skin

Scientists develop soft robot with stretchy skinResearchers have developed a new form of artificial skin that stands out for being “stretchy” when pressure is applied to it, and also glowing as it moves.

According to Cornell Organic Robotics Lab researcher Chris Larson, the artificial skin is far more stretchable than human or octopus skin, while being quite similar to the latter animal in some ways. “In terms of texture, it’s actually more like a rubber band or a balloon,” he added.

Larson and his colleagues compared the stretchy skin to that of an octopus, not because of the octopus’ skin per se, but rather because of how an octopus beak moves and stretches. And, to prove just how stretchy the skin is, the researchers tested it out on a robot, with the skin showing its special properties as the robot moved.

The robot wearing the artificial skin was shown to have an “undulating gait” as it moved, and had actually began to glow more brightly with each movement. Larson sees the robot’s unusual gait as similar to a sheet of rubber, as it compresses in a perpendicular direction to the direction it is stretched in. As for the glow, that comes from the electric field embedded into the skin; this glow can come in different colors, depending on the metal powder used in making the skin.

“We can take these pixels that change color and put them on these robots, and now we have the ability to change their color,” said Larson’s fellow researcher Rob Shepherd. “Why is that important? For one thing, when robots become more and more a part of our lives, the ability for them to have emotional connection with us will be important. So to be able to change their color in response to mood or the tone of the room we believe is going to be important for human-robot interactions.”

For the skin’s applications, Larson said that it could be used to make more comfortable wearable devices that stretch under pressure. He and his colleagues have also been in contact with several U.S. automakers about using the technology to replace touchscreen interfaces and make the safer, by means of a button that emits light when pressed by a user.