Giving Soft Robots Electronic Skins

Researchers have developed electronic skins that are not only stretchable and conformable onto dynamic surfaces, but also capable of wireless communication.

AsianScientist (Jun. 14, 2018) – A research team at Seoul National University (SNU), South Korea, has developed a skin-like electronic system that is soft, thin, lightweight and can wirelessly activate soft robots through a simple lamination process. Their findings are published in Science Robotics.

Robots are often thought of as being hard and rigid, but recent advances in materials science and manufacturing have allowed the creation of functional soft robots. In the present study, researchers led by Professors Hong Yongtaek, Kim Jaeha and Cho Kyu-Jin at SNU have created an electronic skin (e-skin) that can be used to control the movement of soft robots wirelessly.

One part of the e-skin is placed over human skin and capable of sensing inputs. The other part is placed on a soft robot and can be used to activate the soft robot’s components. Both parts of the e-skin are thin (less than 1 mm) and lightweight (~0.8 g). Both parts of the e-skin feature a spatially fragmented circuit configuration with a slew of miniature integrated circuit components, allowing the e-skin to be stretched.

The researchers demonstrated that the e-skin is capable of wireless communication between its two parts, where they can transmit information at a distance of more than five meters. They noted that an embedded encoding mechanism makes the inter-skin communication noise-tolerant.

The proposed e-skins can be reversibly assembled into soft robot frames to activate muscle-like soft actuators without interfering with their motions. The benefits of this e-skin-mediated soft robotic assembly include co-adaptive movement that helps the robot pass through and operate in highly confined spaces, including areas where the cross section of the available space is even smaller than the robot’s size.

“Soft robots have great advantages as they allow the organic integration of every robotic component without rigid boundaries. However, current soft robotic designs still rely on rigid components. This e-skin, being soft, thin and lightweight, opens a new avenue for soft robotic assembly,” said the researchers.

The article can be found at: Byun et al. (2018) Electronic Skins for Soft, Compact, Reversible Assembly of Wirelessly Activated Fully Soft Robots.


Source: Seoul National University.
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