Robotic Touch: U Researchers Develop Way To Print Bionic Skin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Researchers at the University of Minnesota say they’ve developed a way to make “bionic skin,” technology that could allow robots to feel their environments and humans to wear sensory-enhancing devices directly on their fingertips.

The university announced the discovery Wednesday, adding that the research, led by mechanical engineering professor Michael McAlpine, will be published in the next issue of Advanced Materials.

According to the U of M, McAlpine and his fellow researchers developed a way to 3D-print “stretchable electronic fabric” on human skin. While they haven’t printed the technology on real human fingers just yet, they were able to successfully print the sensory material on the curved surface of model human hands.

The researchers say the technology could have several applications, from medicine to warfare. They added that the technology could be available in the very near future, as the 3D printing manufacturing techniques are part of the team’s discovery.

“Putting this type of ‘bionic skin’ on surgical robots would give surgeons the ability to actually feel during minimally invasive surgeries, which would make surgery easier instead of just using cameras like they do now,” McAlpine said, in a statement announcing the discovery. “These sensors could also make it easier for other robots to walk and interact with their environment.”

McAlpine said soldiers could also use the robotic skin to detect dangerous chemicals or explosives. The possibilities for the technology, he added, are “endless.”

Next, McAlpine and his research team want to try printing on real human skin, and using semiconductors.

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