Robot mimics human touch26th June 2006
A device which may pave the way for robotic hands that can replicate the human sense of touch has been unveiled.
US scientists have created a sensor that can "feel" the texture of objects to the same degree of sensitivity as a human fingertip.
The team says the tactile sensor could, in the future, aid minimally invasive surgical techniques by giving surgeons a "touch-sensation".
The research is reported in the journal Science.
Professor Saraf and colleague Dr Vivek Maheshwari, also from the University of Nebraska, were able to attain a high level of sensitivity by creating a very thin film made up of layers of metal and semiconducting nanoparticles flanked at the top and bottom by electrodes.
When the film touches a surface any pressure or stress squeezes the layers of particles together. This causes the current in the film to change and light is emitted from the particles, an effect known as "electroluminescence". The visible light is then detected by a camera.
To demonstrate the high sensitivity of the device, the scientists pressed a US one cent coin against it. The sensor revealed the wrinkles in President Lincoln's clothing and the letters TY in liberty.
Professor Saraf said the film, as well as matching the sensitivity of a human fingertip, was also flexible and robust enough to be used repeatedly.
He also said the device could have medical applications, even helping to detect cancers, as well as minimally invasive surgical procedures.
Professor Saraf added that now he would like to see if he could create a device that can detect temperature changes as well as texture, enabling it to closer mimic the sensations humans can feel.
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