Robots: With Feelings?

(robots with the right touch)

Flexible Sensors Make Robot "Skin"

The key to making artificially intelligent robots resides has been to provide them with several ways to gather information about their environments and the ability to hear and see; but what about the sense of touch?

A sheet, known as a "large-area sensory array", is an electronic film, made up of bendable, shock-resistant transistors embedded in plastic that can detect pressures and temperatures and are flexible enough to cover small objects and could give robots a sense of touch.

Unlike humans, robots don't have sensitive skin; however, this is about to change. By using organic, or plastic, field-effect transistors as pressure sensors deposited on a flexible material, researchers at the University of Tokyo have created an artificial skin that will give robots the sense of touch.

A prototype has a density of sixteen sensors per square centimeter, far from the 1,500 on human fingertips.

The researchers' pressure sensor arrays are built from inexpensive organic, or plastic, transistors on a flexible material. This allows for dense arrays that can be used over large areas.

The arrays could be used in pressure-sensitive coverings in hospitals, homes, gyms, and cars to monitor people's health and performance.

Some of the other possible applications

The active-matrix design allows the arrays to be smart enough to enable specific sensors at certain feedback points, for example, to monitor the heart and breathing rate of a hospital patient who has fallen to the floor.

The "skin" could measure whether an elderly patient is just taking a rest, or needs help, and it could also be used in car seats to monitor drivers' mental and physical conditions.

It is said that the large-area pressure [sensing abilities] could also be helpful in obtaining information through drivers seats.

—Sources: Several websites and Time, November 28, 2005.

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