Researchers Develop Artificial Tactile Sensor that Imitates Humans’ Sense of Touch

A new, artificial tactile sensor has been developed by a research team that imitates the human skin’s ability to perceive surface information, for example, structures, shapes, and patterns.

This latest breakthrough may bring researchers one step closer to developing robots and electronic devices that can perceive sensations like smoothness and roughness.

Mimicking the human senses is one of the most popular areas of engineering, but the sense of touch is notoriously difficult to replicate.

Kwonsik Shin, Study Lead Author and Engineer, Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology.

The study has been reported in IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics.

Humans have the ability to simultaneously perceive numerous features of their environment, for example, shear force, tension, vibration, temperature, and pressure. In addition to this, they also have the ability to detect psychological parameters like pain, hardness¸ smoothness, and roughness. The foremost crucial step towards simulating the psychological sensations of touch is the detection of precise surface information.

In order to address this problem, researchers at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) partnered with coworkers from ASML Korea, Dongguk University-Seoul, the University of Oxford, and Sungkyunkwan University and eventually created a sensor that has the potential to determine surface textures with excellent precision. The new device was developed from highly sensitive materials—piezoelectric materials—that can produce electric current in response to applied stress. These types of materials exhibit skin-like properties.

The novel sensor offers a number of benefits over prevalent artificial sensors. Firstly, it has the ability to perceive signals through touch as well as sliding. This imitates the two ways humans perceive surface properties—by running their fingers over it or poking it. A single technique is used by the majority of artificial sensors. Secondly, the new sensor contains a series of multiple receptors, which means it is possible to measure the sliding speed through the time interval between a pair of receptor signals and the distance between them. A single receptor is used by most robot fingers, needing an external speedometer.

The scientists tested the new device by pressing stamps hat were shaped like a dome, triangle, or square against the surface of the sensor, and they even added a soft material to the device to see if it could determine depth, theory detecting in three dimensions (3D).

Different voltages were produced by the sensor based on the stamp shape. The outcomes demonstrate that this device possesses a high spatial resolution and has the potential to represent the surface properties of specific objects, for example, the pitch and width, with a high level of precision. Yet, the sensor cannot currently differentiate between various shapes perfectly in 3D.

In the days to come, the sensor can possibly be integrated into a range of electronic devices, for example, smartphones and robots to enhance their ability to perceive surface textures.

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