Bringing robotics one step closer to reality, Stanford engineers develop material that can sense touch.
Anyone who has seen I, Robot or has read any of Isaac Asimov’s books, turned into an instantaneous robot fan. Although the word robot here is a bit under appreciative. Artificial Intelligence is a more appropriate term. When Will Smith tells the artificial human, by his name, Sonny, in I, Robot that he is not a human being because he cannot write a book, paint a masterpiece or compose a song, the robot simply answers: neither can you.
Had Sonny known what the Stanford engineers managed to do, maybe his answer to Will Smith’s accusation would have been something more like: no, I can’t, but I can feel pain. And feeling pain is, probably, one of the most organic traits there are.
The engineers at Stanford have developed a special material, with two layers, that acts like human skin and is able to feel touch. The first layer registers the action of being touched and the second one contains various transmitters which can send signals to the brain that the material is being touched.
The first layer is so sophisticated that, not only can it tell when it’s being touched, but it can differentiate between a light brushing of the skin and a firm grip.
The piece of information is amazing news for artificial limbs producers, of course. Artificial limbs have seen an amazing development in the past few years and can now make disabled people wearing them act like they’re not actually missing out on anything. But this added feature will just be the icing on the cake. Not only will they have amazing artificial hands or legs, that almost perfectly mimic the ones they lost, but they will also be covered in a skin-like material that will be able to let them know when they’re being touched in those parts of their bodies.
And when artificial intelligence robots are actually created and they are covered in the same material, we’ll get to experience science-fiction first hand. Of course, the long-lasting debate of whether such robots should be created remains and this just adds fuel to the fire. A race of robots completely independent, who can think for themselves and who can feel both physical and psychological pain may not be a good idea.
Perhaps humanity should stick to being on top of the food chain for as long as they can.