New process devised for 3D-printing bionic skin for robotic devices

Engineering

A new means of producing sensor-equipped skin for robotic devices has been developed by engineers at the University of Minnesota.

The stretchable electronic sensory skin is designed to provide robots with the ability to feel and interact with their environment, aiding the development of precise surgical tools, among other applications.

“Researchers have developed a new method of 3D-printing stretchable electronic sensory devices that can act as a skin for robotic devices.“

The production method utilises a specialised 3D printer with four nozzles to print the material out in layers, with a base layer of silicone sandwiched between electrodes made of a conducting ink, as well as a coil-shaped pressure sensor and a sacrificial layer to hold the top layer in place while it sets.

All of these layers are able to set at room temperature, meaning this method could also be used to apply electronic components to human skin.

Study leader Michael McAlpine, a University of Minnesota mechanical engineering associate professor, said: "With most research, you discover something and then it needs to be scaled up. Sometimes, it could be years before it is ready for use. This time, the manufacturing is built right into the process, so it is ready to go now."

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