By Ribhav Gupta
Earlier this week, Zhenan Bao, professor of chemistry, and her lab announced the creation of the first flexible and artificially intelligent skin with pressure sensing capabilities.
Five years ago, Bao began the project of developing a plastic alternative to skin. Her group examined the springiness of different rubbers and materials. Growing capability in pressure sensing allowed for a dynamic waffled plastic embedded with billions of carbon microtubules to translate touch sensation into detectable signals.
Drawing from from groundbreaking work by Karl Deisseroth Ph.D. ’98 MD ’00 MF ’03, professor of bioengineering and of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, Bao’s lab applied mechanisms that turn electric conductive signals into biochemical ones, which can be interpreted by the nervous system.
The current model, presented in Science, consists of two major components: the sensing mechanism and the circuitry. When pressure is applied to the body’s surface, the carbon nanotubes crowd together, inducing an electric current. The magnitude of this “signal” is proportional to the force applied onto the artificial skin.
This new technology will allow users to differentiate a range of sensations from a light handshake to a firm grip.
The Stanford lab worked with Working with PARC, a Xerox Company, to devise a laser-printing technique for the circuitry in order to improve the skin’s ability to bend, granting better dexterity and an enhanced range of motion.
Bao’s mission is to allow users to eventually detect the difference between unique textures and temperatures.
Contact Ribhav Gupta at rgupta97 ‘at’ stanford.edu.