Self-healing e-skin to enable skin sense in robots

Terminator e-skin

GETTYThe development of the e-skin could bring us one step closer to the Terminator

A team of researchers from the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder have recently invented a novel kind of malleable, self-healing and exhaustively recyclable "electronic skin".

The study regarding the advancement was published in the journal of Science Advances. The technology mimics the mechanical properties and functions of human skin, such as measuring temperature, pressure and vibration, Quartz reports.

The electronic skin - or e-skin - features a new type of covalently bonded dynamic network polymer, known as polyimine.

A team of researchers from the University of Boulder are making efforts to create an adaptable "electronic skin" that will also be capable of self-healing if gets damaged.

Jianliang Xiao, a mechanical engineer at the University of Colorado Boulder and lead author on the study, says that e-skin can lead to "safer" interactions between robots and humans.

If the e-skin is cut, additional compounds are added to the wound, allowing it to heal (repair).

By slightly heating the electronic skin, it can be shaped to comfortably fit the contours of a human limb or irregular surfaces like a robotic hand by applying a little pressure.

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At the end of its operational life, the e-skin can be soaked in the ethanol solution, which causes the polymers to degrade and the silver nanoparticles to sink to the bottom. So, if e-skin fails to operate or it is broken beyond fix then one can soak it in a solution that "liquefies it so that the materials can be re-used to create new e-skin".

"Given the millions of tons of electronic waste generated worldwide every year, the recyclability of our e-skin makes good economic and environmental sense".

Xiao added, "For robotics, it might not be very necessary to integrate e-skins with industrial robots to provide sensing capabilities at this point".

The e-skin isn't flawless.

Zhang said, "Let's say you wanted a robot to take care of a baby".

And interestingly, the electronic skin is completely recyclable, or at least it's created to be once it's complete.

The idea for e-skin has been around since 2011, but this is the first version that can be reused, reducing waste and lessening manufacturing costs. Sandwiched between layers, organic LEDs were lit by semiconductor-enriched carbon nanotubes and a conductive silver ink. Although not electronic, this microfluidic skin can enable electronic skin to have improved skin grip with slight sweating, similar to how human palm and finger tips expel small amounts of eccrine sweat during gripping.

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