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Robots to benefit from highly-touch-sensitive material

Evan Blass

We'd thought that with all the robotic doctors, bartenders, and baseball players out there that our autonomous frenemies already possessed a pretty light touch, but a new material developed by researchers at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln may help future bots replace even more professionals by endowing them with greater tactile sensitivity. Unlike traditional touch sensors or the sensitive skin developed by NASA, the design created by Ravi Saraf and his colleagues uses alternating layers of gold and cadmium sulphide nanoparticles in a film just 100-nanometers thick, and indirectly detects pressure using a digital camera to capture emitted light when voltage is applied. Since the light output of the sensor is directly correlated to the amount of pressure being applied, subtle surface aberrations on a given object are easily identifiable, meaning that a bot equipped with this technology would be able to resolve details as small as the embossed lettering on a coin. Besides giving robots a better understanding of the stuff we make them hold, the sensors could also be applied to devices used in tele-medicine, so doctors performing remote surgeries could operate with more precision and less poking around.

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