Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

David Zax

A View from David Zax

Elastic Electrical Cables for Robotic Skin

The first-of-their-kind wires could take the hard edge off of robots.

  • December 6, 2011

A Japanese company called Asahi Kasei has developed the world’s first elastic electrical cable – and has taken the liberty of christening it “Roboden” (here’s a link, if your Japanese is good). In a somewhat unsettling comparison, TechCrunch notes that Roboden can stretch by a factor of 1.5, “like the human skin.”

The comparison (which Asahi Kasei actually makes itself) is in fact apt, since one of the main applications Asahi Kasei envisions is in humanoid robotics. Typically, for robots to be able to articulate their rigid joints, roboticists have to include extra, slack wiring to accommodate the movement. A stretchy cable is more forgiving, eliminating the need for some of that slack. Asahi Kasei is also one of the world’s major manufacturers of spandex (though under the brands ROICA and Dorlastan), so the company is very much at home in the world of the stretchy. “We thought, if we can make a cable that stretches by a factor of 1.5, it could be used for wearable electronics, or for wiring the skin of humanoid robots,” Shunji Tatsumi of Asahi Kasei Fibers told Diginfo TV, in one of the latter’s trademarked deadpan video reports.

There are other, more mundane uses as well: you can simply buy USB cables out of Roboden if you feel a great need for stretchy wires to plug into your laptop. “Of course, this will also have applications in amusement or entertainment,” added Tatsumi.

But the most intriguing frontier here is that favorite of robotic observers: the uncanny valley, that eerie in-between state in which robots are just not quite convincingly human. “For robots to be more like people, they’ll need to be soft,” Tatsumi said. Asahi Kasei is not the first to have envisioned an era of the flexible, even squishy, robot (see this recent account of a Harvard project to make a Gumby-like robot). All of which raises a question: will the steepest ascent out of the uncanny valley be in the realm of touch, not sight?

AI and robotics are changing the future of work.  Are you ready?  Join us at EmTech Next 2019.

Register now
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to All Access Digital.
  • All Access Digital {! insider.prices.digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The digital magazine, plus unlimited site access, our online archive, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    Digital magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.