Electronic "Hair" Could Give Robots a More Human Sense of Touch

Electronic-skin prototypes are stretchy, thin films that can sense temperature, pressure, and even monitor blood oxygen or alcohol levels. But most of these devices are missing a key feature of real skin that allows us to feel a wider range of conditions - hair. Now, researchers from China's Harbin Institute of Technology have combined hair-like wires with electronic skin to make a more versatile sensor for robots, prosthetics, and other applications. The researchers created an array of artificial hairs with glass-coated, cobalt-based microwires and embedded the ends of the wires in a silicon-rubber 'skin.' This hairy skin could repeatedly detect a range of pressures, including the landing of a fly, a light wind, and a ten-pound weight. When used with a two-finger robot gripping a plastic block, the new sensor could 'feel' slip and friction forces.