Machines can see and hear better than humans, but when it comes to the sense of touch, human skin has the advantage.
Now a team of materials scientists from Georgia Institute of Technology has built a flexible, pressure-sensing array of transistors that can be molded to different shapes and is sensitive enough to pick up slight pressures equal to that felt by human fingers.
The sensor could improve robotic prosthetics in a way that would let amputees feel what they hold, and allow robots to sense texture and manipulate delicate objects. The technology could even be embedded in a variety of devices for security measures.
"You could have smart fingerprinting and cover a cellphone with it," said Zhong Lin Wang, co-author of the research study.
Such a cellphone would only respond to owner's fingerprints and no one else's.
The team published their results in the April 25 issue of the journal Science.
To make their sensor, the team used piezoelectric material, a substance that generates a current when it's bent, squeezed or twisted. Do the reverse and send a current into a piezoelectric material, and the material will deform. Although unusual, these materials are commonly used in buzzers and doorbells, and scientists have been exploring them as an alternative energy source.