Large-area soft e-skin: The challenges beyond sensor designs
Sensory feedback from touch is critical for many tasks carried out by robots and humans, such as grasping objects or identifying materials. Electronic skin (e-skin) is a crucial technology for these purposes. Artificial tactile skin that can play the roles of human skin remains a distant possibility because of hard issues in resilience, manufacturing, mechanics, sensorics, electronics, energetics, information processing, and transport. Taken together, these issues make it difficult to bestow robots, or prosthetic devices, with effective tactile skins. Nonetheless, progress over the past few years in relation with the above issues has been encouraging, and we have achieved close to providing some of the abilities of biological skin with the advent of deformable sensors and flexible electronics. The naive imitation of skin morphology and sensing an impoverished set of mechanical and thermal quantities are not sufficient. There is a need to find more efficient ways to extract tactile information from mechanical contact than those previously available. Renewed interest in neuromorphic tactile skin is expected to bring some fresh ideas in this field. This article reviews these new developments, particularly related to the handling of tactile data, energy autonomy, and large-area manufacturing. The challenges in relation with these advances for tactile sensing and haptics in robotics and prosthetics are discussed along with potential solutions.