Scientists are developing a smart skin for use in robots in space

The project has been funded by the European Space Agency.
Loukia Papadopoulos
A robotic arm portruding from the International Space Station.jpg
A robotic arm protruding from the International Space Station.


The Danish Technological Institute (DTI) has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to engineer a smart skin for robot arms to be used in space.

This is according to a report by Printed Electronics published on Thursday..

As robots continue to show up all around the world they also take center stage in space. This requires that the machines work well with their human colleagues and that they are also able to withstand the harshness of space with its radiation, low pressure, and violent temperature fluctuations.

“We will design and test a smart skin that will make robots more suitable for future space exploration. It involves testing advanced surface sensors and alarm panels that can enable the robots to detect and avoid potential collisions with objects in the environment. This will make them robust and safe helpers for astronauts in space,” said senior consultant Christian Dalsgaard from DTI.

The researchers plan on developing a new specially-designed smart skin for robots made of soft materials that can be 3D printed with electronic components directly printed onto textiles. The engineering process of the skin will make it safe for use in space and will allow the robots wearing it to perform a variety of tasks

“We need to investigate materials that can protect against dust, radiation, and large temperature changes. And through use of modern 3D printing and printed electronics, we will also introduce new manufacturing processes for space equipment,” Dalsgaard said.

This development, argue the researchers, will lead to machines that can assist astronauts in space.

“There is great potential for robots in space, where they can help with everything from scientific experiments to maintenance on space stations and extraction of valuable resources. It is both cheaper and less risky to send a robot instead of a human. But it requires them to be extremely robust,” told Printed Electronics director Jacob Kortbek from DTI. 

“It will be exciting to investigate whether and how we can push the boundaries of what robots can help with in space.”

The first part of the development project is expected to be completed in March 2024. Currently, several projects are underway producing smart skin for robots that is not only self-healing but also allows the machines to feel the sense of touch.

A team of scientists from Edinburgh has engineered smart electronic skin they claim “gives robots for the first time a level of physical self-awareness similar to that of people and animals.”

Meanwhile, Stanford scientists have invented a multi-layer self-healing synthetic electronic skin that mimics the real thing allowing robots to feel like humans.

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