Robot Skin Is On The Way


British material-design company Peratech recently inked a deal with MIT to create pressure-sensitive, electronically responsive "skin" for robots. This means, of course, that sooner or later we'll have a terrifying robotic version of Buffalo Bill.

Peratech's signature product is a kind of sensitive metal-and-silicone material called quantum tunneling composite, or QTC. This technology lies at the intersection of "electronic" and "tactile": it responds to pressure, converting physical force into electric signal. It's already been used to create more sophisticated touchscreens, as well as an "off button" on electronic passports to stop them from broadcasting RFID tags all over the place.

Now, according to MIT's Technology Review blog, researchers at the university's Media Lab department hope to dress up their robots in QTC:

QTC robot skin could perhaps let a robot know precisely where it has been touched, and with how much pressure. It could also be helpful in designing machines that have better grasping capabilities, and for developing more natural ways for machines to interact with humans.

QTC is also pretty easily molded, and in the words of a Peratech press release, it can be "'draped' over an object much like a garment might." Thus, robots with skin—skin that knows how hard you're touching it, and where. There could be any number of exciting applications for this; it might actually herald a major step forward in the way we interact with machines. But it's hard not to worry that if the people behind Roxxxy the sex robot ever find about this stuff, the world will explode.