A heat-sensing film could let robots detect when humans are around, like pit vipers hunting out warm-blooded prey.
The flexible, transparent coating is made of pectin, a low-cost plant material used to set jam. Unlike conventional electronics, it relies on currents of ions rather than electrons to detect temperature variations – just like natural membranes used by the snakes.
The film can sense temperature changes as small as 10 millikelvin, which is twice as sensitive as human skin. It can detect a warm body the size of a rabbit from a metre away, something the researchers tested by microwaving a teddy bear and setting it at different distances from the film. Changes in temperature cause the film’s resistance to vary, which is picked up by electrodes along the edges and transmitted to a computer.
Applying it over a robot’s entire body could provide 360° thermal sensing, says Raffaele Di Giacomo at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, who led the research. That could help machines navigate crowded areas without hitting people, or help search and rescue robots locate humans in rubble or smoke-filled rooms. It could also help them to avoid damage and be more helpful to people. READ MORE at New Scientist.