What is robotic skin?

New'Robotic Skins Can Assist Astronauts in Mars Exploration

What is this "robotic skin"?

The skins, developed and designed by researchers at the Yale University in partnership with NASA, could be used for everything from search-and-rescue robots to animate the inanimate everyday objects to wearable technologies.

She said robotic skins enable "robot design on-the-fly".

Even though they designed the robotic skins with no specific task in mind, they have many possible applications. The findings were published today in the journal Science Robotics. Instead, the elastic sheets embedded with sensors and actuators are wrapped around deformable objects like stuffed toys to give them movement.

In one instance, the robotic skins - moved either by pneumatic mechanical controls or coil-shaped memory alloy that bounces back into shape - were wrapped around foam tubes. The motion achieved by an object "depends on the relationship between the dimensions, material properties, and force capabilities of the skin and the dimensions and stiffness characteristics of the body", the authors write in the study.

"We can take the skins and wrap them around one object to perform a task - locomotion, for example - and then take them off and put them on a different object to perform a different task, such as grasping and moving an object", she said.

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As noted, the strength of this tech lies in its versatility, as most robotic systems are typically single goal in scope. Prof. Kramer-Bottiglio said we could also use them for wearable technologies.

In the future, Kramer-Bottiglio hopes that the skins will be able to learn by themselves using data from the sensors, giving them the ability to adapt on their own, especially when wrapped around moldable objects like clay. "Now we can get combined modes of actuation - for example, simultaneous compression and bending".

The scientists created a handful of prototypes to demonstrate the robotic skins in action. It was also used to create a gripper capable of grabbing and moving objects, and a wearable device that, when worn as a t-shirt, corrects poor posture.

Professor Kramer-Bottiglio informed that the system was created in collaboration with NASA and the multiple functionalities of the robotic skin would help the astronauts in completing a bunch of tasks. Because resources are limited in space, a versatile system like robotic skins can be used as a robotic arm at one point and a planetary surface rover in another.

If you have robotic skins on board, you can potentially turn virtually anything into a robot with a objective, the authors explained.

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