"Smart skin", created by a team led by Professor Zeynep elik-Butler, combines millions of tiny flexible sensors made from 0.2 micron thick zinc oxide nanorods (compared with about 40 to 50 microns in diameter for human hair). Each sensor is self-powered and requires no external voltage. Many of them are wrapped in a chemical and moisture-proof polyimide elastic layer, forming a flexible and waterproof "skin." Even when a small pressure is applied to the polyimide, the nanorod sensor in the region detects the pressure by bending.
Therefore, the “skin” is very sensitive to the surface changes it touches – it can also detect changes in temperature. The material can ultimately be applied to robotic grippers, prosthetic fingers, or even just hand-held sensing devices.
"these sensors are very sensitive, and if they've been partially fingerprinted, the technology can help determine who that person is," elik-Butler said. "as my students say, imagine a situation where people can identify themselves with this robot."