New artificial skin on robots improves sensory abilities

A team of scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has created the first autonomous humanoid robot with full-body artificial skin. The new system combines artificial skin and controls algorithms to provide with sensitive synthetic skin. This will thus enhance the robot’s capability in proximity of people.

The skin consists of hexagonal cells which are about an inch in diameter, the size of two-euro coins. Every cell features a sensor and a microprocessor in order to examine proximity, temperature and contact. This feature thus also enables the robot to perceive the surroundings more accurately and with greater sensitivity.

Furthermore, this characteristic allows them to move around safely around people and also enables them to anticipate and avoid accidents.

According to reports, the biggest challenge in developing a robot skin has been the computing capacity. The human skin has about 5 million receptors. Continuous processing of data from sensors in artificial skin has been limited. Previous research efforts in this field were overloaded with data with just few hundred sensors.

The research team overcame this problem with the help of a NeuroEngineering approach. Reports allege, the team did not monitor skin cells continuously but through an event-based system. As a result, the processing system was minimized up to 90 percent.

Furthermore, the event-based approach also helped the team in applying artificial skin to a human size autonomous robot without relying upon external computation.

According to experts the H-1 robot has 1260 cells and has more than 13000 sensors on its arms, legs, upper body and on soles of its feet. This is also the key for ‘bodily sensation’ in robots. Experts reveal this is also the reason why the robot can hug a person safely.

In addition, the H-1 is highly robust and versatile. Since the robot skin is made particularly of cells and not from a single piece of material, it stays functional even if some of the cells stop working.

“Our system is designed to work trouble-free and quickly with all kinds of robots,” explained Gordon Cheng who created the artificial skin. “Now we’re working to create smaller skin cells with the potential to be produced in larger numbers.”