Robotic skins provide motion to everyday inanimate objects

New'Robotic Skins Can Assist Astronauts in Mars Exploration

New'Robotic Skins Can Assist Astronauts in Mars Exploration

"This is when I thought of robotic skins".

The skins were developed with no specific goal in mind but the possibilities are wide ranging, from search-and-rescue robots to wearable technologies.

In the lab, researchers wrapped the skin around many objects like a stuffed horse and showed how robotic skin enables the toy to walk across the surface.

The skins could be useful for a field called soft robotics, according to David Howard, a robotics research scientist at the CSIRO, who was not involved with the research.

The results of the team's work were published on September 19 in Science Robotics, and Kramer-Bottiglio has said her lab's next step is streamlining the devices and the possibility of using 3D printing to manufacture the components.

The skins are said to be made from elastic sheets embedded with sensors and actuators developed in Kramer-Bottiglio's lab. The motion achieved by an object "depends on the relationship between the dimensions, material properties, and force capabilities of the skin and the dimensions and stiffness characteristics of the body", the authors write in the study. "We can then take those same skins off that object and put them on a shirt to make an active wearable device".

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Robots are typically built with a single objective in mind. Prof. Kramer-Bottiglio said we could also use them for wearable technologies.

Additionally, using more than one skin at a time allows for more complex movements. "Now we can get combined modes of actuation - for example, simultaneous compression and bending". For example, foam cylinders that shift from one place to another like an inchworm or a wearable tech device that is aimed at correcting bad postures.

"Given the design-on-the-fly nature of this approach, it's unlikely that a robot created using robotic skins will perform any one task optimally", said Kramer-Bottiglio.

Research published today in the journal Science Robotics shows how versatile robotic skins embedded with sensors can transform nearly any soft object and make it move. In fact, the researchers say OmniSkins could even be used on crumpled balls of paper and balloons.

The project is a bit funny-looking, but Kramer-Bottiglio said it has a serious objective: to help NASA prepare for the unknown environments of deep space exploration. The question is: "How do you prepare for the unknown unknowns", she added.

For the same line of research, Kramer-Bottiglio was recently awarded a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, as part of its Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program.

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