3D-printed 'bionic skin' to give robots sense of touch

This "revolutionary" 3D printing process is a major step forward in printing electronics on real human skin, researchers said.

PTI| Updated: May 11, 2017, 18:07 PM IST

Washington: Scientists have developed a 3D printed stretchable electronic fabric that could give robots the ability to feel their environment.

This "revolutionary" 3D printing process is a major step forward in printing electronics on real human skin, researchers said.

"This stretchable electronic fabric we developed has many practical uses," said Michael McAlpine, associate professor from University of Minnesota in the US.

"Putting this type of 'bionic skin' on surgical robots would give surgeons the ability to actually feel during minimally invasive surgeries, which would make surgery easier instead of just using cameras like they do now.

"These sensors could also make it easier for other robots to walk and interact with their environment," said McAlpine, lead researcher on the study published in the journal Advanced Materials.

McAlpine said this new discovery could also be used to print electronics on real human skin.

This ultimate wearable technology could eventually be used for health monitoring or by soldiers in the field to detect dangerous chemicals or explosives, researchers said.

"While we have not printed on human skin yet, we were able to print on the curved surface of a model hand using our technique," McAlpine said.

"We also interfaced a printed device with the skin and were surprised that the device was so sensitive that it could detect your pulse in real time," said McAlpine.

McAlpine and his team made the unique sensing fabric with a one-of-a-kind 3D printer they built in the lab.