Robots with emotions are a staple of science fiction, and a holy grail for AI researchers. But machines with another kind of feeling--a sense of touch--might be a more attainable goal for the near future. To that end, the results of a new study represent significant progress. Scientists have developed a pliable artificial skin that can sense pressure and temperature.

Last year Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo and colleagues announced that they had developed an electronic artificial skin, or E-skin, that could detect pressure. But their creation lacked the ability to sense heat and was not flexible enough to conform to such three-dimensional surfaces as robot fingers. Now Someya's team has addressed these shortcomings by embedding organic transistor-based circuits that are pressure-sensitive and organic semiconductors that are heat-sensitive in a thin plastic film. The result is a net-shaped matrix that the researchers were able to attach to the surface of an egg and that could simultaneously measure and map both pressure and temperature.

Down the road, E-skin sensitivity may well surpass that of human skin by incorporating sensors for light, humidity, strain and ultrasonic, the scientists note. A report detailing their findings was released online today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.