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This 'Robotic Skin' Brings Inanimate Objects, Stuffed Toys To Life

Sep 21, 2018 10:16 PM EDT
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Robotic Skins
Researchers from Yale University have designed "robotic skins" that can turn any inanimate object into a moving robot. The technology is highly customizable.
(Photo : YouTube | Yale Campus)

It might not be able to turn Pinocchio into a real boy, but these newly designed robotic skins can make the puppet move like one.

The remarkable technology from Yale University isn't just for puppets and stuffed animals either, but can transform virtually anything into an automaton.

Robotic Skins Animate Everyday Objects

Researchers have developed "skins" that can be slipped on inanimate objects to turn them into robots. The team, led by Yale's Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, published their findings in the journal Science Robotics.

The new robot technology is light, functional, and easily adjustable. Made from elastic sheets embedded with sensors and actuators, these robotic skins are also reusable and highly customizable to perform a variety of tasks.

Tasks depend on the properties of the objects and the way the skins are placed.

"We can take the skins and wrap them around one object to perform a task — locomotion, for example — and then take them off and put them on a different object to perform a different task, such as grasping and moving an object," Kramer-Bottiglio, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, says in a statement. "We can then take those same skins off that object and put them on a shirt to make an active wearable device."

The robotic skins' capability to change for various purposes is a game-changer, considering most robots are made for a single, specific purpose only.

Kramer-Bottiglio points out that it could be used for search-and-rescue automatons, wearable technology, or even tasks that weren't even considered when the sheets were designed.

In a video posted online, the scientists demonstrate the adaptability of their robotic skins using it in various ways from making stuffed animals walk to correcting poor posture in people.

The skins could, the authors note, even be layered to create more complex movements.

Ideal For Use In Space

The idea for the robotic skins came to Kramer-Bottiglio when NASA put out a call for soft robotic systems a few years ago. Indeed, the design is ideal for astronomers as it would allow them to accomplish a number of tasks using a single material.

"One of the main things I considered was the importance of multifunctionality, especially for deep space exploration where the environment is unpredictable," she explains, adding that the team needed to figure out how to prepare for the unknown.

Next steps for the team would include streamlining the design and potentially using 3D printing for the different parts.

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