Electronic skin giving robots ‘power of human touch’ developed in Scotland

Touchlab Robot Skin

An Edinburgh-based robotics company called Touchlab is developing robot ‘skin’ that can be wrapped around any surface and will allow robots to “feel texture, and sense pain like a human would,” the company claims.

The e-skin, which uses a technology called quantum tunneling, allows robots to sense pressure and sensations such as slippage rather than simply force, in a manner similar to human skin. It can use deep learning and analytic software to identify objects and different textured surfaces through touch.

“Our mission is to make this electronic skin for robots to give machines the power of human touch,” Zaki Hussein, Touchlab’s co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

While the company is not developing the robot skin with any sexual function in mind, the sextech potential for a robot with skin that reacts like a human’s are obvious. Touchlab already works with humanoid robots, and is looking to use its technology in hospitals and other care settings.

Each section of ‘e-skin’ the company is developing uses tactile sensing regions and four wires, each about as thick as two human hairs. Sections can be customized in terms of size and shape. While they are designed to allow a robot to ‘feel’ like a human does, the e-skin sections don’t resemble human skin, so the experience is likely to be a bit of a one-way relationship for now.

It can, however, be paired with technology such as virtual reality haptic gloves and bodysuits, which react to the data from the e-skin. “We can use the full potential of the best haptic interface of the day, but there is a point where the robot is feeling more than the user is able to,” Hussein says.


Touchlab Electronic Skin Trials

Touchlab expects to conduct its first real-world pilot studies in 2023, with Hussein saying that the e-skin will allow robots to do “dexterous and challenging activities”.

Sex robots currently on the market tend to not have particularly high-tech skin, essentially using similar, non-electronic materials to high-end sex dolls. Some companies have worked on technology such as artificial skin that warms itself, for human-like realism, but there are no sex dolls available with sophisticated e-skin.

Earlier in 2022 Japanese researchers developed a new form of self-healing so-called ‘living skin’, that they claimed would usher in a new era of robots made from both organic and artificial material.

Read next: Dawn of the laughing sex bots? Researchers teach robot how to empathetically giggle

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Jamie F
Jamie F

Jamie is a freelance writer, contributing to outlets such as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, CNN and Vice, among others. He is also the creative force behind the Audible podcast Beast Master.

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