Scientists studying ‘soft robotics’ have discovered a new technique that brings the tantalizing possibility of surfaces which yield and react when touched.

Soft robotics is the study of devices that are highly flexible and behave more like living organisms that react and re-organise themselves in response to stimulus.

Researchers at Rice University, Texas have created a new 3D printing technique (which it erroneously refers to as ‘4D’) to produce a material that will change shape when it feels an electric current. Your fingers produce such a current (it’s the same way a capacitive touchscreen works) and so will feel the material ‘yield’. It also reacts to temperature and stress.

The printed material shares two molecular shapes – triggering it forces it to switch from one to the other. In effect, it’s two materials occupying one point in space.

Now, it probably won’t take a huge leap of imagination to work out why this relevant for anyone interested in sextech or sex robots, because it brings the possibility of realistic skin on sex dolls, and more natural-looking (and feeling) body types that can react to your touch.

The tech has its limits – it can’t perform unsupported, so needs to be covering something to give it form, but then the same is true of skin.

So when will we see this tech in your friendly sex toy shop? Probably not for a while, if we’re honest. The team admits that we’re quite a long way from a mass market product, and a production rollout at any kind of scale may be years away – but it’s still good news, and yet another step closer for realistic artificial humans.

We’d also remind you that a few years ago, a company called Tactus announced it was working on morphing screens for tablets and phones, which never happened, so there’s still quite a gulf between the end goal and a product that we’ll be able to afford.

In other words – get a bit excited, but not too excited.

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