Zurich - An ETH Zurich PhD student is developing an artificial skin that aims to give robots a sense of touch similar to humans. This could be used in medical robotics, telerobotics, warehouse robotics as well as prosthetics, for example.

Johannes Weichert, a PhD student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), is developing the basis for robots with a humanlike sense of touch. To achieve this, he is working on the development of an artificial skin with the sensitivity of human fingertips.

To achieve this, “around one sensor per square millimeter” is required, Weichert explains in a press release issued by ETH Zurich. These are embedded in a flexible substrate. Each sensor is made up of various layers with two conductive membranes. There is also a small bead, which if pressed will change the distance between the two conductive membranes and therefore the measuring signal from the corresponding sensor.

Moreover, each of these beads is combined with three electrodes. In this way, the angle of the force applied to these can be measured. “It means you can feel the quality and texture of a surface and recognize when an object is slipping over the surface of the skin by sampling the sensors at high enough frequencies”, Weichert explains.

Weichert was listed among the nominees for the ETH Spark Award, which was presented last week. According to the press release, he is not striving to achieve academic perfection, but rather “practical relevance”. He has not yet decided on an area of application for the further development of his technology, although medical robotics, telerobotics and warehouse robotics, as well as prosthetics, are all feasible options.

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