A robot hand with artificial skin reaches for a glass of ice water. Researchers at the University of Houston have created an artificial skin that allows a robotic hand to sense the difference between heat and cold. The discovery of stretchable electronics could have a significant impact in the wearables market, with devices such as health monitors or biomedical devices, says Cunjiang Yu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston and the lead author for the paper. When the stretchable electronic skin was applied to a robotic hand, it could tell the difference between hot and cold water.
Hailey Dawson is 7 years old and has already thrown out the first pitch before many Major League Baseball games. By using a robotic hand made with a 3-D printer, she has thrown out the ceremonial first pitch for several MLB teams, including the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, Oakland A's, Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers. The Las Vegas native first threw out a ceremonial pitch before a UNLV game in 2014, then set her sights on doing so at major league stadiums. More than 20 of the league's teams, including the Dodgers and Angels, reached out to Dawson through that tweet.
Cunjiang Yu, an assistant professor at the university and three other researchers created "a semiconductor in a rubber composite format" that can stretch and still retain functionality, allowing a robotic hand to feel temperature differences and distinguish between hot and cold. Other than demonstrating the temperature sensitivity of the material using a robotic hand and hot and cold water, the researchers also showed the artificial skin could interpret computer signals and reproduce them in sign language. Researchers from the University of Houston have reported a breakthrough in stretchable electronics that can serve as an artificial skin, allowing a robotic hand to sense the difference between hot and cold. In the open-access paper titled "Rubbery electronics and sensors from intrinsically stretchable elastomeric composites of semiconductors and conductors," the researchers wrote: "Rubbery sensors, which include strain, pressure, and temperature sensors, show reliable sensing capabilities and are exploited as smart skins that enable gesture translation for sign language alphabet and haptic sensing for robotics to illustrate one of the applications of the sensors."
Robotic teams around the world are working on soft robots, because some situations call for a touch gentler than what a rigid machine can give. To solve that problem, a team of researchers from Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium have developed a way to create soft machines that can heal themselves -- all you have to do is add heat. In the video above, you can see a robotic hand repair itself after being stabbed. To create truly low-maintenance soft machines, the researchers are now finding a way to automatically trigger their self-healing mechanism.
But before any such solutions are possible, we must learn more about biological tissue mechanics, says Professor Michel Destrade, host scientist of the EU-backed SOFT-TISSUES project, funded by the EU's Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions. Prof. Destrade, an applied mathematician at the National University of Ireland Galway, is supporting Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow Dr Valentina Balbi in developing mathematical models that explain how soft tissue like eyes, brains and skin behave. And in SOFT-TISSUES' skin research, the team hopes to use sound waves and modelling as a cheap and immediate means of finding the tension of skin at any given part of the body for any given person. Dr Balbi reports that the biomedical industry has a real hunger for knowledge provided by mathematical modelling of soft tissues -- and especially for use in bioengineering.
Now, companies like Open Bionics have produced lighter, high-tech functioning, bionic limbs that are not only cheaper, but can be custom-made. Mr Young's ground-breaking prosthetic limb connects nerves and muscles Five years ago, James Young's life changed for ever in a freak accident when he fell under a train. But two years ago, however, James's life changed again – this time for the better – when he became'part cyborg' in an experiment that fitted him with a prototype bionic arm. Open Bionics made the robotic hand using a 3D printer and it was fitted at the London studio of prosthetics artist Sophie De Oliveira Barata, creator of the Alternative Limb Project.
Called MetaLimbs, the mechanical set of arms is powered by the motion of the wearer's feet and knees via bending sensors that are mapped on the wearer's limbs. Japanese researchers have unveiled a set of robotic arms that straps on a user's back to help them with physical limitations when carrying out complex tasks When the wearer curls their toes, the robotic hand will close – allowing them to easily grab an object off of the table or move something from one spot to the next. MetaLimbs was designed to work in two parks, which includes the positional tracking system and robotic arm system. The mechanical set of arms is powered by the motion of the wearer's feet and knees via bending sensors that are mapped on the wearer's limbs.
It was a crude machine, dubbed the Robot Gargantua by its creator. But even with a high degree of dexterity, robotic hands can't achieve the same level of performance as biological ones if they don't possess a sense of touch. Dubbed "Revolutionizing Prosthetics,"", this program effectively sought to build a robotic hand as capable as Luke Skywalker's arm from The Empire Strikes Back. The early touch sensors employed in the DARPA program were measuring force and profilometry, which, as the name implies, physically maps a surface's profile.
Researchers report today in the journal Science Translational Medicine that they can do something similar: stimulating regions of a human test subject's brain with electrodes can recreate the perception of touch in a robotic hand. In several experiments where scientists electrically stimulated human brains, such as 2013 research in the Journal of Neural Engineering, participants reported sensations that felt like they were coming from the hands, but described the feelings a more of a buzzing or the tingling sensation, like when your foot falls asleep. The core of the system consisted of two neural implants: 2.4 mm by 4 mm microelectrode arrays with 60 electrodes. The researchers began the experiment by tracking the magnetic fields coming from the brain's neurons when the test subject, Nathan Copeland, imagined something touching different parts of his hand.
But the researcher is touching a robotic hand, not Copeland's, whose hand hasn't felt a thing in over a decade. In this "proof of principle" experiment, a man whose spinal injury removed all sensation from his limbs was able to "feel" pressure on several robotic digits connected directly to his brain. What Robert Gaunt and his team at the University of Pittsburgh have done is essentially plug the robotic arm directly into the brain, bypassing the intermediary nerves and spinal cord altogether. But 16 years of operating his limbs means he remembers what it feels like when his hand is touched -- and that means his brain remembers, too.