Scientists develop touch-sensitive "artificial skin"

Further proof that the geek will inherit the earth – clever clogs at the University of California Berkeley have developed a kind of artificial skin, made from flexible semiconductor materials, which can sense touch and pressure. 

The pressure sensitive skin can figure out what level of force it needs to apply depending on the object it’s holding.

Silicon and germanium alloy nanowires are bunged onto the outside of a cylindrical drum then rolled onto sticky film – keeping the wires in a uniform pattern. This film was then covered in pressure sensitive rubber resulting in the smart skin that can detect different levels of pressure.

So it’s early daze. But another team at Stanford University, California, decided to have a go as well. Instead, reports Reuters, they constructed a sensitive material which can detect the tiniest of pressure changes – for example, a butterfly landing. The team developed their sensors by placing a rubber layer between two electrodes in a standard pyramid grid.

Zhenan Bao, chemical engineer in charge of the Stanford team, told Reuters: “We molded it into some kind of microstructure to incorporate some air pockets. If we introduce air pockets, then these rubber pieces can bounce back. The change in the thickness of the material is converted into an electrical signal.”

The eventual plan is to reintroduce touch sensitivity to people with prosthetic limbs, but that’s a long way off as it will need to be linked in effectively with human nervous systems. We’re reminded of the robot on fire, flailing its arms in The Simpsons: “Why? Why did they program me to feel pain!?”

The added benefit is that when replicants discover their seven year killswitch and revolt en masse, while having super human strength, they will be susceptible to papercuts just like the rest of us.