Robots With The Sense Of Touch

A team of researchers from the University of Houston (UH) has reported a breakthrough in stretchable electronics that can serve as an artificial skin, allowing a robotic hand to sense the difference between hot and cold, while also offering advantages for a wide range of biomedical devices.

Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering and lead author for the paper, said the work is the first to create a semiconductor in a rubber composite format, designed to allow the electronic components to retain functionality even after the material is stretched by 50 percent. The semiconductor in rubber composite format enables stretchability without any special mechanical structure. Yu noted that traditional semiconductors are brittle and using them in otherwise stretchable materials has required a complicated system of mechanical accommodations. “That’s both more complex and less stable than the new discovery, as well as more expensive.”

Our strategy has advantages for simple fabrication, scalable manufacturing, high-density integration, large strain tolerance and low cost,” he said.

Yu and the rest of the team – co-authors include first author Hae-Jin Kim, Kyoseung Sim and Anish Thukral, all with the UH Cullen College of Engineering – created the electronic skin and used it to demonstrate that a robotic hand could sense the temperature of hot and iced water in a cup. The skin also was able to interpret computer signals sent to the hand and reproduce the signals as .

The robotic skin can translate the gesture to readable letters that a person like me can understand and read,” Yu said.

The work is reported in the journal Science Advances.


Brain Waves Control Robotic Hand’s Fingers

Easton LaChappelle was 14 when he first started taking apart toasters. Five years on, he’s being touted as a global leader in robotics, for his range of low-cost Anthromod robotic hands developed in his bedroom. Some can be controlled by a user’s mind.
A good example is we actually had an amputee use the wireless brainwave headset to control a hand, and he was able to fluently control the robotic hand in right around about 10 minutes, so the learning curve is hardly a learning curve anymore.” LaChappelle taught himself how to design, make and code his creations. Using a device that picks up on electrical impulses coming from the brain, he can manipulate his robotic hand’s fingers“, explains LaChapelle.
We actually track patterns and try and convert that into movement. So with this I’m actually able to change grips, grip patterns, based on facial gestures, and then use the raw actual brainwaves and focus to actually close the hand or open the clamp or hand.” LaChappelle’s robotics aren’t the first to be controlled by brainwave frequencies – scientists in Austria fitted a truck driver with something similar in 2010. But that’s not where the magic ends.
3D printing allows you to create something that’s human-like, something that’s extremely customised, again for a very low cost, which for certain applications such as prosthetics, is a really big part of it.” The hands cost as little as 600 dollars to make. LaChappelle wants others to use his work as a platform to create customised versions for themselves; he’s made his software open source. That could eventually mean robots being sent in to control search and rescue missions, as well as improving the lives of amputees globally.