Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a unique sensor system designed to give robots and prosthetics, artificial skin with human sense of touch. They call it the “Asynchronous Coded Electronic Skin (ACES), which is an e-skin that can yield the same or even better sense of touch as the human epidermis. The breakthrough sensor system developed by the researchers enables the e-skin to respond 1,000 times faster than the human sense of touch.
Assistant Professor Benjamin Tee of the NUS Faculty of Engineering and his team, all from the NUS Department of Materials Science and Engineering, have been working for more than a year in developing a sensor system modeled after the human sensory nervous system, but with greater capability at performing better. Although electronic skins have been previously developed, the ACES e-skin is different.
Unlike earlier models of e-skins that have interlinked wiring systems, the ACES sensor system is made up of a network of sensors connected by way of a single electrical conductor. The improvement makes the ACES skin innovation robust, as the absence of wiring systems reduces sensitivity to damage, as well as makes the innovation scaleable.
The ACES Sensory Capability
The electronic skin technology developed by Asst. Professor Tee and his team is touted as the fastest ever developed. Compared to the human sensory system, NUS’ ACES detects touches 1,000 times faster. At a speed of less than 60 nanoseconds, it can differentiate physical contacts when interacting with different sensors, even in large numbers.
Robustness of the ACES-Enabled Skin
Inasmuch as e-skins will experience frequent physical contact with objects in the environment, the NUS research team led by Asst. Professor Tee made sure their design is robust enough to withstand physical damage. In order to attain such a goal, they outfitted the ACES e-skin with sensors that can be linked to a common electrical conductor, while still allowing each sensor to operate independently.
The configuration therefore empowers the ACES-enabled electronic skin to keep functioning as long as there is at least one connection between the conductor and the sensor; making the e-skin on a robot or prosthetics more robust against damages.
Scalability of the ACES Electronic Skin
According to Asst. Prof Tee
“Scalability is an important consideration because large pieces of high performing electronic skins are required to cover relatively broad surface areas of prosthetic devices and robots.”
That being the case, the NUS assistant professor and his team made it possible for ACES e-skins to easily combine with any kind of sensor skin layers; such as those designed to recognize temperatures and humidity by way of touch. Asst. Professor Tee cited the scalability trait as important, as it gives the ACES-enabled skin exceptional sense of touch that can work for a wide range of purposes.
Through scalability, ACES-enabled e-skin can be developed for different potential applications. Some examples include; but not limited to, creating robots that carry out disaster recovery missions, or warehouse-packing tasks, as well as realistic prosthetic limbs that will allow persons with disabilities to restore their sense of touch.