Robots are good at doing a lot of tasks but they tend to lack dexterity and fine tactile sensations. Scientists are making great efforts in improving artificial gripping technology and we keep covering these inventions as they come. We recently covered the development of a sensor for a robotic thumb that closely approximates human touch. Another recent advancement in soft robotics is an artificial fingertip.

Researchers from the University of Bristol have made progress in improving tactile senses in robots. A team of scientists led by Professor of Robotics & AI (Artificial Intelligence), Nathan Lepora, from the University of Bristol’s Department of Engineering Math has developed an artificial fingertip that has a highly sensitive 3D printed tactile skin.

The artificial skin covering the fingertip consists of a mesh of 3D printed papillae on the underside of the skin. These papillae mimic the papillae found between the outer epidermal and the inner dermal layer of the human skin. The artificial papillae improve the sense of touch and were created using highly advanced 3D printers that are capable of mixing hard and soft material together. These printers are fit to create complicated structures similar in shape to those found in living organisms. 

The 3D artificial fingertip is able to generate the nerve signals that mimic the tactile sensing by real nerve cells. In tests, the nerve recordings of the artificial fingertip were similar to electrical recordings from a classical work by Phillips & Johnsons in 1981, who first plotted electrical recordings of nerves to study tactile senses. 

Although this new invention by scientists is a step forward in creating skin as good as the actual skin, 3D printed skin was not as sensitive to fine details as nature. Researchers are excited about this new development in soft robotics as the 3D printed skin could help improve the tactile performance and dexterity of prosthetic hands.