Smart Takes

Meet 'e-skin': Artificial skin made from nanowires

Meet 'e-skin': Artificial skin made from nanowires

Posting in Technology

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have created a pressure sensitive artificial skin built from nanowires used in semiconductors. This e-skin would first be used in robotics and possibly prosthetic limbs in the long run.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have created a pressure sensitive artificial skin built from nanowires used in semiconductors.

This e-skin is outlined in the journal Nature Materials. UC Berkeley are the first to create artificial skin out of inorganic single crystalline semiconductors.

Engineers in a statement say that they aiming to create material that acts like human skin and can touch and feel objects. This e-skin could be used in robotics. Robots can't judge the amount of force needed to hold and manipulate fragile items like an egg.

Ali Javey, head of the UC Berkeley research team developing the artificial skin, said:

"If we ever wanted a robot that could unload the dishes, for instance, we’d want to make sure it doesn’t break the wine glasses in the process. But we’d also want the robot to be able to grip a stock pot without dropping it."

While robotics would be the first application of this nanowire artificial skin, longer term applications could be used on human prosthetic limbs. For use in prosthetics, this artificial skin would have to integrate sensors with the human nervous system.

To make this e-skin, UC Berkeley researchers grew germanium/silicon nanowires on a cylindrical drum. From there, the nanowire materials were rolled onto a polymide film substrate, but can be used for other materials such as plastic, paper or glass. The nanowires were printed onto the substrate.

Here's a look at the nanowire specs:

Engineers printed the nanowires onto an 18-by-19 pixel square matrix measuring 7 centimeters on each side. Each pixel contained a transistor made up of hundreds of semiconductor nanowires. Nanowire transistors were then integrated with a pressure sensitive rubber on top to provide the sensing functionality. The matrix required less than 5 volts of power to operate and maintained its robustness after being subjected to more than 2,000 bending cycles.

Share this

Larry Dignan

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure