Nature has created some amazing systems, such as the sensitivity of human touch. We can feel texture, temperature, pressure, vibration, and more simply through our fingertips. The ability to gain all this information simply through touch is of enormous value in fields ranging from prosthetic hands to robotics. We’ve written before about artificial skin with the ability to sense touch (such as this article), but a promising new approach has been inspired by Nature’s own designs.
Researchers at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) in Korea have come up with an artificial skin that mimics the structure of a human fingertip. They have published their findings in Science Advances that show the details of their research. The outer layer consists of a patterned plastic film, analogous to the ridges of a human fingerprint. This is attached to the top layer of a micro-patterned ferroelectric film that interlocks with a similarly patterned film below it. Electrodes above and below these ferroelectric films collect the signals that are generated by the system. Piezeoelectric effects create signals from static contact with a surface, while ferroelectric effects can be used to detect dynamic touch (texture-sensing) and temperature.
The result is a thin, flexible skin that can collect a range of useful data. Not only could this be useful for prosthetic devices and robotic applications, but it may also be helpful in creating wearable Health Tech sensors as well.