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Researchers have developed electronic artificial skin that reacts to pain just like real skin

The prototype developed by researchers at RMIT in Australia is capable of electronically replicating the way human skin senses pain such as touch, pain and heat. It would also provide “near-instant” feedback if pressure and temperatures hit levels that would cause a person to respond in shock. this could lead to better prosthetics and non-invasive skin grafts.

Lead researcher Professor Madhu Bhaskaran said the pain-sensing prototype was a significant advance towards next-generation biomedical technologies and intelligent robotics.

“Skin is our body’s largest sensory organ, with complex features designed to send rapid-fire warning signals when anything hurts,” Bhaskaran said. “We’re sensing things all the time through the skin but our pain response only kicks in at a certain point, like when we touch something too hot or too sharp. No electronic technologies have been able to realistically mimic that very human feeling of pain – until now. Our artificial skin reacts instantly when pressure, heat or cold reach a painful threshold. It’s a critical step forward in the future development of the sophisticated feedback systems that we need to deliver truly smart prosthetics and intelligent robotics.”

To create an electronic skin requires a combination of three technologies:

  • Stretchable electronics: combining oxide materials with biocompatible silicone to deliver transparent, unbreakable and wearable electronics as thin as a sticker.

 

  • Temperature-reactive coatings: self-modifying coatings 1,000 times thinner than a human hair based on a material that transforms in response to heat.

 

  • Brain-mimicking memory: electronic memory cells that imitate the way the brain uses long-term memory to recall and retain previous information.

The design mimics the neurons, neural pathways and receptors that guide human senses and uses extremely thin electronics (oxides and biocompatible silicone) with pressure sensing, temperature-reactive coatings and brain like memory cells.

The potential implementation of this technology could enable those with prosthetics to have the ability to sense and pain touch in the near-future.