Stretchable, skin-like robots that can be rolled up and put in your pocket have been developed using a new way of embedding artificial muscles and electrical adhesion into soft materials. This new advance could create new thin and light robots for environmental monitoring and deployment in hazardous environments, robot grippers for delicate objects, and new wearable technologies.
Traditional robots are rigid and incompliant, whereas soft robots are compliant and can stretch and twist to adapt to their environments. Until now, soft robots have separated their movement abilities from their capabilities to grip the surface they move on. Taking inspiration from biological skins and soft organisms like snails and slugs, researchers demonstrated a new robotic skin that crawls across a surface by alternately contracting embedded artificial muscles and gripping the surface using electrical charges.
A robot made from the ElectroSkin can be scrunched up, put in one's pocket, and then later pulled out and thrown on a surface, where it moves. ElectroSkin is a new fundamental building block for a range of soft next-generation robots.
ElectroSkin is an important step toward soft robots that can be easily transported, deployed, and even worn. In the future, ElectroSkin robots could crawl up walls and across a ceiling to clean them, explore difficult-to-reach environments including collapsed buildings, and be used in a range of wearable second-skin devices.