Ricardo Gomez Angel
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Do Robots Need a Sense of Touch?

Oct. 21, 2020
Sensor research could open doors to an array of interesting applications.

Robotic technology is constantly evolving with new capabilities opening the door to exciting new applications. Sensors mimicking human skin may be the key to making robotic hands sense like human hands.

According to LUX Research Analyst Lisheng Gao, “A research team developed piezoelectric effect-based sensors that mimic the human somatosensory system. They built the sensors by stacking interlocked piezoelectric and piezoresistive flexible films. The sensors perceive the force changes and magnitudes by measuring strain variations of the piezoelectric layer and resistivity of the piezoresistive layer. Analyzing the complex signals can reveal the loading processes, including the loading direction, rate, magnitude, and duration. Artificial skin has been a hot topic for both robotic and medical applications. Despite technological attractiveness, the market is niche. Clients should evaluate the technology's scalability, cost, and software support while considering licensing opportunities."

Gao says, while this class of sensors initially shows promise within applications involving robotic grippers and hands, in the future, the possibility for applying these sensors to medical applications is intriguing.  Of course, the fabrication and lifecycle could present challenges. “Large area deposition is still difficult and expensive,” says Gao. “The technology also needs further treatment to prevent from being worn quickly. Additionally, software development is also challenging for this delicate use case.”

Gao estimates it will be at least five years before this sensor is ready for scaling to commercialization levels. “But there might be some piloting projects within years,” he says. “So far, the technology does not have the advanced algorithms it needs to support its functioning.”