Smart prosthetic skin can sense pressure, heat and moisture

A team of Korean and American researchers has developed a smart prosthetic skin that can sense pressure, heat and moisture – which could help those with artificial limbs detect if, say, a pot handle’s too hot or about to slip out of their hands. The work was just published in Nature Communications.  Here’s a portion of the abstract: Here […]

A team of Korean and American researchers has developed a smart prosthetic skin that can sense pressure, heat and moisture – which could help those with artificial limbs detect if, say, a pot handle’s too hot or about to slip out of their hands.

The work was just published in Nature Communications.  Here’s a portion of the abstract:

Here we demonstrate smart prosthetic skin instrumented with ultrathin, single crystalline ?silicon nanoribbon strain, pressure and temperature sensor arrays as well as associated humidity sensors, electroresistive heaters and stretchable multi-electrode arrays for nerve stimulation.

This collection of stretchable sensors and actuators facilitate highly localized mechanical and thermal skin-like perception in response to external stimuli, thus providing unique opportunities for emerging classes of prostheses and peripheral nervous system interface technologies.

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“If you have these sensors at high resolution across the finger, you can give the same tactile touch that the normal hand would convey to the brain,” researcher Roozbeh Ghaffari told MIT Technology ReviewHe’s also head of advanced technology development at Cambridge startup MC10, which is developing high-performance wearable electronics so they can conform to the body seamlessly.

The MIT Tech Review piece continues:

The new smart skin addresses just one part of the challenge in adding sensation to prosthetic devices. The larger problem is creating durable and robust connections to the human nervous system, so that the wearer can actually “feel” what’s being sensed.

In a crude demonstration of such an interface, Dae-Hyeong Kim, who led the project at Seoul National University, connected the smart skin to a rat’s brain and was able to measure reactions in the animal’s sensory cortex to sensory input. This did not, however, show whether, or to what extent, the rat was feeling heat, pressure, or moisture. “To tell the exact kinds of feeling,” Kim says, “we need to move onto larger animals, which would be our future work.”

There remains a big gap between what the new materials can do and what existing interfaces can actually convey to the human brain, says Dustin Tyler, a professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, and an expert in neural interfaces. “This proof-of-concept demonstration is interesting, but there is a lot of hard work that remains to show the robustness and performance necessary to translate this device to usable prosthetic hands,” he says.

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