The Bioloid Robot with 31 hexagonal sensor modules located throughout its body  (Source: Andreas Heddergott / Technische Universitaet Muenchen)
The new robot skin will enable robot self-perception, allowing robots to maneuver their environment

Researchers from the Excellence Cluster CoTeSys at the Technische Universität München (TUM) have created a sensitive skin for robots that allows them to feel temperature and a light touch.

Philip Mittendorfer, study leader and a scientist at the Institute of Cognitive Systems at TUM, and Gordon Cheng, professor at the Institute of Cognitive Systems at TUM, have developed an ultra-sensitive robot skin that will enable robot self-perception, allowing robots to maneuver their environment.

The new robotic skin contains a 5 square centimeter hexagonal circuit board or plate, where each small circuit board holds four infrared sensors that identify anything closer than 1 centimeter. This detects light touch, such as the fine hairs on human skin being stroked. In addition, there are six temperature sensors and one accelerometer, which allow the robot to register the movement of individual limbs. 

The boards are put together to form a planar structure that is worn by the robot. The signals from the sensors are processed by a central computer, which allows each sensory module to pass information along and act as a "data hub" for separate sensory elements. This allows the robot to feel a light touch, a breeze and warmth from the sun. 

This robot skin, coupled with gripping hands, camera eyes and infrared scanners, will allow robots to become more human-like. These sorts of machines could help those who are required to travel through different environments. 

"We try to pack many different sensory modalities into the smallest of spaces," said Mittendorfer. "In addition, it is easy to expand the circuit boards to later include other sensors, for example, pressure."

The skin is not yet complete, but 15 sensors on a small piece of complete skin have shown that the robot skin does work. A light touch to the skin causes the robot arm to react. 

"We will close the skin and generate a prototype which is completely enclosed with these sensors and can interact anew with its environment," said Cheng.

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis
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