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Video: Robots Just Got a Whole Lot Hairier

15 December 2016

While advances in robotics have allowed these machines to sense temperature, pressure or even blood-oxygen or alcohol levels, electronic skin is still far away from the real thing.

However researchers at Harbin Institute of Technology in China have developed a way to get one step closer by adding hair-like wires to robotic limbs that allow them to “feel” a wider range of conditions.

Robots are being used to enhance productivity or efficiency, but they lack a full range of tactile senses that humans have because fine hair—which covers 95% of the body—helps us feel things such as a light breeze. So the Harbin researchers developed sensors that mimic this fine hair by sensing and detecting air flow.

How They Did It

Researchers created an array of artificial hairs with glass-coated, cobalt-based microwires and embedded the ends of the wires into a silicon-rubber “skin.” This hairy skin was repeatedly tested to detect a range of pressures, from a fly landing on it, to a slight wind, to a 10-pound weight. The scientists also applied the skin to a two-finger robot gripping a plastic block that could “feel” when it slipped and applied more force to grasp it.

While this is the extent of what these devices can do currently, the team wants to expand on the project by combining the features of electronic skin and hair into a single device.

To contact the author of this article, email Peter.Brown@ieeeglobalspec.com


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