A living organism’s basic ability to feel and touch the things around it is nothing short of magical, and the same sense of touch will now be integrated on robots, thanks to smart skin technology. The smart skin technology was meant to help amputees regain their sense of touch, with the skin integrated and layered on their prosthetic limbs. To constantly power and maintain the high sensitivity and economic cost of the smart skin tech was a challenge that Haixia Zhang’s research team accepted, and the team has now come up with a self-powered transparent smart skin that costs way lesser than the rest.

smart skin with sense of touch

To boost the sensitivity, researchers had to increase the number of electrodes, depending on the skin’s size, which only led to an increase in costs. Some systems use external batteries and wires that make them really heavy and inconvenient to use. Haixia Zhang and team were in the pursuit if a more simpler and practical solution. This team created smart skin from ultrathin plastic films that integrates just four electrodes made of silver nanowires. This is a significant reduction in the number of electrodes, as other systems use up to 36 electrodes. The other major upgrade is that they’ve incorporated a component that harvests mechanical energy, that is, when the prosthetic limb moves, the motion is then harnessed into an electric current.

This way the skin discards the need for an external power source, and upon testing it was observed that the skin was extremely sensitive. It was able to ‘feel’ a honeybee as it flew close to the skin. This opens a definite market for not only prosthetics, but many more avenues where they could make use of a touch-sensitive robot. The sense of touch will help robots understand their surroundings, helping them get a better hang of it.

The skin even demonstrated electrical stability, sustaining the same output level over 30,000 cycles.