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Electric Skin That Rivals the Real Thing

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insect on tactile sensor

A new tactile sensor developed at Stanford University can detect the gentle touch of an alighting insect.

Credit: Linda Cicero / Stanford University News Report

Two separate research groups have developed pressure-sensing devices that can match human skin in sensitivity and flexibility. Stanford University researchers created a system based on organic electronics that is 1,000 times more sensitive than human skin. The Stanford system consists of a clear silicon-containing polymer called PDMS. The team designed PDMS with arrays of micropillars that stand up from the touchable surface, which enables the material to flex quickly and return to its original shape.

Meanwhile, University of California, Berkeley researchers built low-power tactile sensors based on arrays of inorganic nanowire transistors. The transistors are connected to a layer of conductive rubber made of carbon nanoparticles that can detect changes in the material's electrical resistance. "The nanowires are being used as active electronics to run the tactile sensor on top," says Berkeley professor Ali Javey.

The Stanford system requires about 20 volts to operate, while the Berkeley device needs less than five volts. The new electronic-skin devices "are a considerable advance in the state of the art in terms of power consumption and sensitivity," says Trinity College at the University of Dublin professor John Boland.

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