Luke Skywalker’s Prosthetic Arm Inspired This Electronic Skin

Luke Skywalker: Scientists at the National University of Singapore have developed electronic “skin” that responds to touch. It’s called ACES, short for Asynchronously Coded Electronic Skin, and the researchers’ inspiration for it came from Luke Skywalker’s prosthetic arm in the Star Wars franchise. They published their findings in the journal Science Robotics.

Remember the robotic prosthetic arm the Rebel fleet replaced Luke Skywalker’s hand with when Darth Vader chopped it off in an epic lightsaber duel in The Empire Strikes Back? Of course, you do and so do scientists.

Luke’s cybernetic replacement limb was ugly enough, but not exactly replicable in the medical world at the time, or even now. But a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore hopes to change that with a new type of artificial nervous system. Think of it as an electronic “skin”.

Read More: This Robotic Arm Can Build Parts for Itself

Asynchronous coded electronic skin (ACES) uses a network of sensors connected by a single electrical conductor. This is in contrast to current electronic skins, which use networks of interconnected wires that are prone to failure if a single point is damaged.

“Equipping intelligent humanoid androids and prosthetics with electronic skins—a large array of sensors distributed spatially and capable of rapid somatosensory perception—allows them to interact with humans and act naturally. would enable them to manipulate objects in unstructured living environments,” the authors note. Their paper appears in the journal Science Robotics.

It sounds crazy, but electronic skin is actually so efficient that it can detect touch 1000 times faster than the human nervous system. In just 60 nanoseconds, the ACES system can distinguish between 20 and 30 different textures, representing the fastest achievement yet for artificial skin.

Within 10 milliseconds, the electronic skin can identify the texture, hardness, and shape of an object. ACES can also read Braille with 90% accuracy.

This is because the ACES system uses a simple wiring scheme that enables fast response times, even with many sensors attached to the “skin”. In total, it contains about 100 sensors and is only 0.16 square inches in size, but scientists say it’s well-positioned to scale electronic skin.

“Scalability is an important consideration because large pieces of high-performance electronic skins are required to cover the relatively large surface areas of robots and prosthetic devices,” research team leader Benjamin T. said in a prepared statement. He recently confirmed with Reuters that his team’s electronic skin was partly inspired by it.
Star Wars.

Interestingly, scientists at the National University of Singapore were not the first group of academics to use Star Wars as a starting point for synthetic research. Last year, the University of Utah teamed up with New Hampshire-based startup Mobius Bionics to develop its own prosthetic limb.

Of course, they called it the LUKE Arm prototype, short for kinetic evolution under life. It helps its users return to function and sensation through peripheral nerve stimulation, which requires an aspirin-sized implant to provide sensory information and feedback.

Going forward, the Singapore team wants to test its electronic skin for other use cases, such as disaster recovery tasks or packing goods in warehouses. In their next phase of research, they are trying to apply the skin to a variety of advanced robots.


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