An octopus-like artificial skin devised for robots allows the craft to bend and stretch around corners and sense touch. The advanced material also glows in the dark and is capable of changing color.
A hyperelastic, light-emitting capacitor (HLEC) is at the heart of the newly-developed material. The HLEC is composed of a pair of electrodes encased within a silicone base.
Octopuses and other cephalopods are able to carry out similar functions with their natural skin, providing inspiration to the material designers. The new artificial skin could encase small robots and soft electronics, providing the devices with the ability to move around sharp corners. The skin is able to stretch to six times its normal size.
Robots with the ability to change their color could use the ability to interact with human beings, including changing hue with the mood of the person with whom they are interacting. This could lead to the development of "mood robots" designed to influence the mood of humans.
"Why is that important? For one thing, when robots become more and more a part of our lives, the ability for them to have emotional connection with us will be important. So to be able to change their color in response to mood or the tone of the room we believe is going to be important for human-robot interactions," Rob Shepard of Cornell University said.
In order to manufacture the artificial skin, researchers pieced together three panels, each containing six layers of HLECs. The bottom two layers contained pneumatic actuators to provide movement, while the upper four layers were doped with different materials to make them glow when exposed to electricity. Layers with magnesium glow yellow, while blue light is produced in layers laced with copper.
This new material could lead to the development of fully-wearable technology that forms to body shapes.
Because the capacitors are placed in layers, it is possible to detect when the material is deformed, providing a sense of touch to devices utilizing the new encasement. A new robot created with the unique skin is able to crawl along the ground in a manner similar to that utilized by worms.
Development of the new glow-in-the-dark octopus-like robotic skin was detailed in the journal Science.