Are you ready for robots with sensitive skin?

June 30, 2011 by Amara D. Angelica

Robots have just taken another (slightly weird) step toward becoming our overlords.

Technische Universität München (TUM) scientists are developing an artificial skin for robots that will provide tactile information to the robot to supplement information from cameras, infrared scanners, and gripping hands.

The idea is to let the robot know when it touches an object so it can then visually search for whatever it just touched. Vision alone is not enough, the scientists explain, since some objects can be hidden. Yes, it’s nice if your personal bot knows when it’s about to slice your finger instead of the carrots.

Hmm, I wonder if they use moisturizer? Apparently not. The “skin” is actually four infrared sensors (and a computer) that detect anything closer than 1 centimeter, corresponding to fine hairs on human skin being gently stroked. (OK, this is getting really creepy.) There are also six temperature sensors and an accelerometer that allow the robot to accurately determine the movement of its arms and legs (or other parts, don’t ask).

Could we get some these bots to do TSA airport inspections? (Personally, I’d rather be groped by a bot.)

The TUM press release boldly proclaims (the Google translation apparently didn’t quite work here) that “intelligent machines develop self-awareness…. These machines will someday be able to incorporate our fundamental neurobiological capabilities and form a self-impression — the robot has moved a step closer to humanity.”

So robots that touch and do impressions? Maybe it’s time to rethink this whole robot thing?