Sci-Fi Eye: Touching the future

Sci-Fi Eye: Touching the future

UK researchers have developed a robot fingertip that creates signals similar to the brain activity associated with human touch. Science fiction author, Gareth L. Powell, explores the possible implications of this technology.

Artificial touch blog (

As you can imagine, The Engineer’s recent report on the development of a robot hand with a tactile fingertip caught set off all kinds of science fictional trains of thought. For instance, the first thing that sprang to mind was a scene from the movie Star Trek: First Contact, in which the Borg queen tries to tempt Commander Data by grafting human skin onto his android body, allowing him to ‘feel’ for the first time.

Luckily, the team from Bristol Robotics Lab aren’t the Borg. Instead of using skin taken from their victims, they’re creating their tactile fingertips using advanced 3D printers that mix soft and hard materials to create biomimetic structures. Professor Nathan Lepora from Bristol’s Department of Engineering Maths, said, “We found our 3D-printed tactile fingertip can produce artificial nerve signals that look like recordings from real, tactile neurons.”

The implications of this are huge. If we imagine that over the next decade, this technology will be improved and refined, we can postulate all sorts of unexpected uses for it.