Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a new artificial nervous system that can detect touches more than 1,000 times faster than the human sensory nervous system, and thus, robots and prosthetic devices may soon have a sense of touch equivalent to, or better than, the human skin.
The Science Daily website cited researcher Benjamin Tee, professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the NUS, saying: "Humans use our sense of touch to accomplish almost every daily task, such as picking up a cup of coffee or making a handshake. Without it, we will even lose our sense of balance when walking. Similarly, robots need to have a sense of touch in order to interact better with humans, but robots today still cannot feel objects very well."
Drawing inspiration from the human sensory nervous system, the NUS team spent a year and a half developing a sensor system that could potentially perform better. The new system is made up of a network of sensors connected via a single electrical conductor.
The new technique can detect touches more than 1,000 times faster than the human sensory nervous system. For example, it is capable of differentiating physical contacts between different sensors in less than 60 nanoseconds.
It can also accurately identify the shape, texture and hardness of objects within 10 milliseconds, ten times faster than the blinking of an eye.
The researchers see that the technique's simple wiring system and remarkable responsiveness even with increasing numbers of sensors are key characteristics that will facilitate the scale-up of intelligent electronic skins for Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications in robots, prosthetic devices and other human machine interfaces.