17:46 GMT03 December 2020
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    Scientists have taken inspiration from the octopus and developed a skin for robots that changes color in reaction to a person's mood, or the tone of a room.

    Scientists at Cornell University have developed an electroluminescent robot "skin" that can change color, and also allows displays to change their shape.

    The skin is made of a hyper-elastic light-emitting capacitor (HLEC), made of hydrogel electrodes and rubber, that can stretch to more than six times its original size while still emitting light. 

    "This material can stretch with the body of a soft robot, and that's what our group does," explained Rob Shepherd, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and leader of the team that developed the skin.

    "It allows robots to change their color, and it also allows displays to change their shape."

    In addition to stretching and emitting light, the HLEC skin is also capable of being integrated into a soft robotic system; the researchers bound together several panels to form a crawling soft robot.

    "When robots become more and more a part of our lives, the ability for them to have emotional connection with us will be important. So to be able to change their color in response to mood or the tone of the room we believe is going to be important for human-robot interactions," Shepherd said.

    In their paper about the invention, published in the March 3 edition of the journal Science, the researchers explained that they took inspiration from the octopus to make the skin, which could lead to advances in health care, transportation, electronic communication and other areas.

    "Cephalopods such as octopuses have a combination of a stretchable skin and color-tuning organs to control both posture and color for visual communication and disguise. We present an electroluminescent material that is capable of large uniaxial stretching and surface area changes while actively emitting light," they wrote.

    Possible uses for the skin include the construction of healthcare robots that can display a patient's temperature and pulse, or react to changes in somebody's condition or mood. 


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