Experimental transistor arrays could give robots the ability feel with remarkable precision.
New research into pressure generated electricity has resulted in a way to create a grid of transistors that could give machines an incredibly fine sense of touch. Piezoelectricity is the name of the game - that's the kind of electricity generated when force is applied to a few select solid materials. By combining tiny nanowires and piezotronic transistors into a grid-like array, the scientists created a clear, flexible sheet that could fit over a robotic limb like skin. That "skin" would feed back through nearly microscopic wires to a computer chip that can translate those signals into movements - effectively simulating a sense of touch. The arrays of transistors are called "taxels," and they're the big step towards making robots able to feel.
Zhong Lin Wang, the leader of the team of researchers at Georgia Tech who have been working on taxel arrays, told TechNewsDaily that "When we [humans] touch fire, we know it's hot." This technology, said Wang, "can allow robots to have that human sense - in other words, make robots more like humans." Wang said that the practical applications for this technology go far beyond robotic senses - they could be used for prosthetics and for 'smart' biometrics - that in addition to knowing your fingerprint, would know how hard you press on the pad, or the exact motions you use to sign your name. "This is the beginning of a new era of technology," said Wang.
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