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Scientific breakthrough: Elastic robotic skin (tech implications are huge)

Elastic robotic skin means technology that bends, and twists in the future. This breakthrough means a tremendous door has just opened (talk about flexibility)!

New research, published in the journal Science, has announced a new scientific breakthrough in the form of an elastic robotic skin. Developed by scientists from Cornell University and the Italian Technology Institute in Pontedera, the elastic robotic skin is able to stretch up to five times its size, change colors, and even detect pressure.

Funded in part by the Army and Air Force’s research wings, the luminescent skin is comprised of different kinds of specialized silicone. In its design, scientist’s implemented a three-layered structure, giving the skin a soft feel and allowing it to be completely flexible. This flexibility let’s the skin stretch up to five times its size.

The middle layer also has some simple phosphorescent powders, like copper to make it blue or magnesium to make it yellow, mixed in with the silicone so that the skin glows and changes colors under a high electric field.

Hugely important development

Mechanical engineer Bryan Peele said, “To power it, we need to sandwich it between another material that’s [electrically] conductive, able to stretch, and is also transparent enough to let the glowing layer’s light through.”

For this, the team turned to a silicone hydrogel technology developed by Harvard researchers. Together, these three layers make up the glowing robotic octopus skin.

There are still some kinks that need to be worked out. Another researcher, Chris Larson, notes that in hot, dry environments this material can dry out. But the entire team remains incredibly excited about the technology and its potential. And I, for one, welcome our new robotic octopus skin.

Challenges remain

There are still a few kinks the team has to work on, such as keeping the material from drying out in hot, dry environments. Nevertheless, the entire team is excited about the technology and its potential. Robotic octopus skin could be used in a host of wearable consumer technologies. Additionally, because the skin allows soft robots to adapt to their environment by making themselves more or less visible, it could be used to help robots have new forms of camouflage.

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A roboticist from Cornell University, Robert Shepherd, even adds that, “because they’re much safer and feel nice,” soft robots could even help improve humans’ interactions with robots.


Written By

Nichole earned a Master's in Sociology from Texas State University and has publications in peer-reviewed journals. She has spent her career in tech and advertising. Her writing interests include the intersection of tech and society. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Communication and Media Studies at Murdoch University.


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