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Artificial Skin will use Quantum Tunneling

Peratech is to develop a novel pressure sensing material for robots.

The UK company Peratech, which last month signed a deal to develop novel pressure-sensing technology for screen maker Nissha, has announced that it will use the same approach to make artificial “skin” for the MIT Media Lab.

Peratech makes an electrically conductive material called quantum tunneling composite (QTC). When the material is compressed electrons jump between two conductors separated by polymer insulating layer covered with metallic nanoparticles. QTC has already been used to make small sensors for NASA’s Robonaut and for a robotic gripper made by Shadow Robot Company.

QTC robot skin could perhaps let a robot know precisely where it has been touched, and with how much pressure. It could also be helpful in designing machines that have better grasping capabilities, and for developing more natural ways for machines to interact with humans.

The company says QTC can be screen-printed as a flexible, robust sheet as thin as 75 microns or made into a coating just 10 microns thick. Because the material reacts only when a force is applied, it consumes little power. And it’s flexibility will let it conform to unique robotic shapes.

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