American research team invents ultra-sensitive new synthetic skin

Current high-end robots and robotic arms can pick up eggs or plastic cups without damaging them. This is all thanks to the tactile sensor at the fingertips. But they are not sensitive enough. Want to use them to control the robot to let the baby fall asleep? It is estimated that a sleeping baby will be awake by it (we assume that the baby's parents agree). Now, a new type of synthetic skin is available. This skin is very sensitive to stress. Perhaps this skin can further promote the development of robots and expand the scope of use of robots.

Two research teams from the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University independently developed this synthetic skin. Synthetic skin can quickly detect very small pressures: a pressure of 15 kPa to 1 kPa is detected within 100 ms, which is already the same as the human skin's perception limit (the softest pressure that one can perceive is 1 kPa).

Both research teams published their research on the website of NatureMaterials. Coincidentally, the two studies have the same principle: they use a pressure-sensitive rubber whose electrical properties change with pressure. At the same time, they used an underlying matrix of transistors to detect this change. But the two teams used different materials and mechanisms.

The research team at Berkeley is led by AliJavey, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science. They used a set of nanoscale silicon germanium transistors and arranged them on a rubber polymer. A separate pressure sensitive rubber layer is laminated to the polymer of the transistor array. When pressure is applied, the pressure sensitive rubber layer will conduct electricity and the voltage and output current of the transistor will change. In a 7 cm square area, the researchers placed 18*19 such pressure sensitive units. They can roughly get the pressure value acting on each pressure sensitive unit.

Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University, and her colleagues used a slightly different approach: they formed a small square pyramid array into a thin film polymer surface called polysiloxane (PDMS). This flexible film acts as a conductive medium between the electrodes of the rubrene transistor. When the pyramid is squeezed, the capacitance of the tapered film will change and the current in the transistor will change.

Which program has an advantage? This needs to be weighed according to your conditions of use. From a flexible perspective, Stanford's rubyrene transistors are made on a rigid silicon substrate with poor flexibility; Berkeley's nano skin has a bend radius of 2.5 mm and can be bent more than 2,000 times. Obviously, Berkeley's solution has an advantage. But from the point of view of pressure sensitivity, Stanford's solution has an advantage, it can sense the pressure of 3Pa.

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