The 'skin-like' sensor unveiled by Stanford University scientists can 'feel' pressure just like human skin - but is far, far tougher.
It could be used for advanced prosthetic limbs - or to create robots that can 'feel' a touch.
The 'super skin' sensor contains carbon nanotubes - tiny, hair-like filaments of carbon - that 'sense' pressure. The 'skin' can sense anything from a light pinch up to a huge, crushing pressure without sustaining damage
The 'super skin' can be stretched out to twice its length and snap back without any harm.
Inside are tiny 'springs' made of carbon nanotubes - minuscule hair-like filaments - that can 'sense' pressure from a slight pinch up to the equivalent of two elephants stepping on top of the sensor.
The highly conductive nanotubes can be stretched in any direction, but still send electrical information - which could be fed back to a robot brain or to a patient.
Even huge amounts of pressure don't permanently damage the sensor, created by Stanford associate professor Dr Zhenan Bao's team.
The sensitive 'film' of carbon nanotubes is completely transparent. It's created by spraying carbon nanotubes - tiny tubes of carbon atoms where the walls are a single layer of carbon - onto silicone.
The 'skin' is created by spraying carbon nanotubes in a liquid suspension over a sheet of silicone. When the silicone is stretched out, the nanotubes form into stretched-out lines across the substance
When the carbon nanotubes are sprayed onto silicone, the substance lands randomly, but when stretched out, the nanotubes form into lines across the substance. When the pressure is released, they coil up like springs.
'After we have done this kind of pre-stretching to the nanotubes, they behave like springs and can be stretched again and again, without any permanent change in shape,’ Bao said, in a report in Nature Nanotechnology.
The researchers found that if they stretched out the substance in a second direction perpendicular to the first, it could then be stretched in any direction without harm.
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