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Ultra-Sensitive Nanotech Robot Skin Receives Patent

ultra-sensitive robot skin

Smart ultra-sensitive robot skin (University of Texas, Arlington)

10 August 2018. Inventors of a system of sensors packaged in a thin film received a patent for their work that enables robotic devices to better sense conditions in the nearby environment. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded patent no. 10,018,525 last month to electrical engineering professor Zeynep Çelik-Butler at University of Texas in Arlington, and retired UT-Arlington engineering professor Donald Butler. The University of Texas system is the patent’s owner.

Çelik-Butler’s research group studies materials for micro-electromechanical systems that provide these systems better capabilities for operating in the real world. For this “smart skin,” the researchers aim to sense the tiniest changes in tactile pressure, as well as understand the nature of their surrounding conditions, such as changes in temperature. One immediate application is with robotic systems that interact closely with humans, where the safety of human workers could be at stake.

“The smart skin is actually made up of millions of flexible nanowire sensors that take in so much more information than people’s skin,” says  Çelik-Butler in a university statement. “As the sensors brush against a surface, the robot collects all the information those sensors send back.”

She and colleagues at UT-Arlington describe the sensing system in a 2014 journal article, where the sensors consist of nanoscale rods made from zinc oxide and are arrayed vertically using a lithographic process. The sensors then are encased in thin, flexible polymide films, and require no external source of power. Polymides are heat-resistant polymers found in a wide range of industrial, defense, and electronic applications.

Other potential applications are in prosthetic devices to give them better sensing ability, medical devices, and in combat uniforms, woven into the fabrics to detect toxic chemicals, and even read fingerprints. “These sensors are highly sensitive,” notes Çelik-Butler, “and if they were brushed over a partial fingerprint, the technology could help identify who that person is.”

This latest patent is the 10th awarded to Çelik-Butler by USPTO. The technology is available for licensing from UT-Arlington’s technology transfer office.

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