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Touch your robot, and its new skin will light up

This e-skin responds to touch with light. It could also be used for medical applications and interactive displays.

Interactive e-skin
Reach out and touch something: The e-skin lights up only where it's pressed.
Ali Javey and Chuan Wang/UC Berkeley

Human-robot love and relationships are inevitable. After all, why put up with your flawed meatsack spouse when you could have a perfect artificial one? Thanks to scientists, your robo-lover's skin will now light up when touched.

Boffins at the University of California at Berkeley have developed a very thin electronic skin, or e-skin, that's basically a sensor network on flexible plastic that reacts to touch with light.

The more pressure is applied, the brighter the e-skin's organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) will shine. It makes me feel all warm and E.T.-like.

"With the interactive e-skin, we have demonstrated an elegant system on plastic that can be wrapped around different objects to enable a new form of human-machine interfacing," Ali Javey, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, said in a release.

The sheet was was developed based on Javey's earlier research with semiconductor nanowire transistors and is described in a paper published in the journal Nature Materials.

The e-skin consists of a thin-film transistor, a pressure sensor, and OLEDs, which are arranged in a 16x16 matrix of red, blue, and green lights. It can be easily laminated onto any surface, according to the researchers.

Aside from robots that light up when touched (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, supported the research), possible applications include touch-screen wallpapers and dashboard displays that could help control cars.

"I could also imagine an e-skin bandage applied to an arm as a health monitor that continuously checks blood pressure and pulse rates," study co-author Chuan Wang said in the release.

Javey is now working to modify the e-skin sensor so it can also react to changes in temperature and light. Other skins can already heal themselves. What else will androids need?

Meanwhile, check out the brief demo of the e-skin in the vid below.