They Create Little Robots That Can Feel

They Create Little Robots That Can Feel


Researchers at the National University of Singapore have developed small, light-driven robots capable of sensing.

They have a voltage sensor, a temperature sensor and an actuator capable of transforming energy, all integrated into a very thin film.


These somatosensory robots are inspired by living organisms and can, therefore, detect voltage and temperature simultaneously.

They also have simultaneous reflex and locomotive capabilities.

They also have complex perceptions of their body state, as well as of the surrounding environment.


This development will allow the manufacture of customizable miniature soft robots, capable of simultaneous perception and motility, according to their creators, Ghim Wei Ho and Xiao-Qiao Wang.

In an article published in Advanced Materials magazine, they explain that “our monolithic flexible thin-film composite allows for an arbitrary pattern of sensors and actuators, and can be transformed into various 2D to 3D prototypes through kirigami”, the Japanese art of paper cutting.

They further stated that the dimensions of the robots can be reduced without any difficulty.


Sensory capabilities

The work has focused on designing several prototypes of kirigami soft robots capable of proprioceptive and exteroceptive feedback in different situations.

Proprioception refers to the perception of the internal state of the robot: e.g. battery charge measurements, robot posture, etc.

Exteroception refers to the perception of aspects external to the robot; for example, temperature, pressure and location of objects.



One of these prototypes is a robotic walker that feeds back energy with its movements, taking advantage of the subtle textures of the terrain.

Another of these prototypes is an anthropomorphic hand that has somatosensory receptions: it can feel the movements of each finger and heat and cold. It also distinguishes the hardness and softness of different materials.

A third prototype is a centipede that can walk, turn and wirelessly detect light intensity, wind speed and human touch.


Imitating living organisms

Living organisms have inspired research into gentle robotics, which mimics the complex movement of animals and plants.

Soft robotics differs from hard robotics in that it uses malleable structures that adapt to the environment more easily, just as living organisms do.


So far, however, soft robots have limited or no sensory capabilities, making it difficult for them to develop into artificial intelligent robots that can sense.

The great challenge lies in achieving highly integrated actuation and detection mechanisms, which becomes even more difficult when the size of the robot is small, in centimeters.

The achievement of these Singaporean scientists is to have solved these technological challenges with small soft robots with complex perceptions of their body state as well as the surrounding environment.