Facebook/Meta and Carnegie Mellon team up to develop electronic skin
Facebook recently rebranded itself as Meta, with an eye toward the development of VR/AR tech. In one of its first projects since the announcement, it's collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University on the development of a touch-sensitive electronic skin.
Known as ReSkin, the material takes the form of a 2- to 3-mm-thick stretchable and flexible elastomer membrane with embedded magnetic microparticles. It could be incorporated into items like robotic hands, prostheses, or "smart" wearables such as gloves that allow one person to feel what another person is touching.
When the membrane gets deformed in any way, the spacing between the magnetic particles changes, which in turn causes the material's magnetic field to change. A small magnetometer – located beneath the material or somewhere in its immediate vicinity – is able to measure those variations, which are analyzed via special algorithms to determine both how much force is being applied, and where it's being applied on the membrane.
Unlike some other touch-sensitive artificial skins, the ReSkin material itself doesn't incorporate any electronic components, nor is it hard-wired to any. This means that it's easy and inexpensive to manufacture, and simple to replace – a worn-out or damaged piece can simply be peeled off and replaced with a new one, with no rewiring or recalibration required.
In tests conducted so far, ReSkin has been able to detect and measure the force of actions such as throwing, catching, slipping and clapping. It has additionally proven to be fairly durable, retaining its functionality after more than 50,000 interactions, plus it's highly sensitive, sporting a spatial resolution of 1 mm with 90-percent accuracy.
It is hoped that once ReSkin is developed further, it could be utilized not only to provide a real-time sense of touch, but also to gather tactile data that could be incorporated into improved AI-based technologies.