Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – Sensitive e-skin makes gentler robots

A group of engineers at Stanford University have developed a glove, fitted with a sensitive electronic skin, that could give robots delicate touch and dexterity that mimics a human's. The team, headed by Zhenan Bao, chemical engineer at Stanford University, published their findings in Science Robotics. They were able to successfully demonstrate that the e-skin allowed a robot to handle a berry and a pingpong ball without damaging or squishing them.



Each fingertip sensor is composed of three flexible layers working in conjunction, with the top and bottom layer being electrically active. The layers are placed in such a way to create a perpendicular grid that mimics that surface of a human finger. Working together, the e-skin sensors embedded in the glove allow it to simultaneously detect intensity and direction of pressure.


“This technology puts us on a path to one day giving robots the sort of sensing capabilities found in human skin,” Bao said. “We can program a robotic hand to touch a raspberry without crushing it, but we’re a long way from being able to touch and detect that it is raspberry and enable the robot to pick it up.”


From the Stanford University article: "To test their technology the researchers placed their three-layered sensors on the fingers of a rubber glove, and put the glove on a robotic hand. Eventually the goal is to embed sensors directly into a skin-like covering for robotic hands. In one experiment, they programmed the glove-wearing robotic hand to gently touch a berry without damaging it. They also programmed the gloved hand to lift and move a pingpong ball without crushing it, by using the sensor to detect the appropriate shear force to grasp the ball without dropping it."


Read more about the e-skin that makes gentler robots at Stanford University.