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Research team creates stretchable luminescent 'skin' that could be used to help robots feel




Octopus can undergo dramatic changes in posture and texture, which inspired the Cornell University research team to design light-up, stretchable luminescent
Octopus can undergo dramatic changes in posture and texture, which inspired the Cornell University research team to design light-up, stretchable luminescent "skin".
Screenshot from Roger Hanlon YouTube video

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A scientific development inspired by an octopus.

A research team at Cornell University has created an extremely stretchable luminescent fabric or "skin," as the group has called it, that could be used to help robots feel.

It could also lead to advancements in areas like healthcare and transportation. 

Rob Shepherd is an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell and leads the group that developed it. He joined the show explain the project and what octopuses have to do with it.

Interview highlights:

What can it do?

"It can do two things at the same time, which is what is new. It can feel it's strain, so if you push on it, it can sense that. And it can also emit light from the same areas it feels with."

 

Describe the 'skin' that your team created ?

"Well, it feels a lot like silicon caulking that you might put in your bathroom. It's a really soft rubber that you can stretch to 600% of it's initial shape."

Explain how the Octopus helped inspire the idea for this "skin?" 

"An octopus has the same problem our robots do. They're really sensitive to predators and they're made up of a wholly soft tissue. So, they really need to disguise themselves quite a bit. And to do that they use three mechanisms, obviously they change their color but they also change their posture...and they change their skin texture...Our soft robots, also stretch a lot and so if Ocotopuses can stretch a lot and change their colors, then maybe our soft robots can too and that's where the analogy came from."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSq8nghQZqA

How far away are we from seeing any of this stuff, be common? 

"In terms of a soft robotic caregiver that changes it's skin color, that's still a far way away. But in the near term we're focusing on wearable displays and what we're calling vanishing interfaces."

To hear the full interview, click the blue play button above.