Like it or not, the day is coming when we’ll live side by side with humanoids. But although most modern robots can grip objects and avoid walls, they lack a vital quality in any companion: feeling. They don’t need to get your jokes or sense that you had a bad day, but without all-over sensors that can detect things like motion and body heat, there’s nothing to tell them that, for instance, they’re stepping on the baby.
The same technology could be applied to such things as steering wheels to measure a driver’s grip to detect drowsiness. It could also be used in electronics, creating simpler iPod controls or expanding computer screens. The fabric needs further development—Someya is still trying to figure out how to sustain softness and elasticity in the rubber without compromising conductivity—but he expects to work out the kinks and start incorporating his robot skin into humanoids within five years.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.