Stanford engineers have created a plastic “skin” that can detect pressure, temperature, and pain and transmit a signal directly to a living brain cell. Scientists hope to develop a sheet of skin embedded with lots of these tiny sensors that, if used to cover a prosthetic limb, may give users the ability to feel.
Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford, has spent a decade trying to develop this skin-like material, mimicking the ability to flex and heal while also utilizing these touch sensors. “This is the first time a flexible, skin-like material has been able to detect pressure and also transmit a signal to a component of the nervous system,” said Professor Bao.
A team at the University of Glasgow that previously worked on a similar type project has recently figured out how to power their skin with sunlight. “Rather than just talking about flexibility or distributed sensors, we’re talking about functional things, and one of those is energy,” says study leader Ravinder Dahiya, who leads the Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group at Glasgow. “Can we develop electronic skin that has its own energy? This could allow the creation of an entirely energy autonomous prosthetic limb.”
“We have a lot of work to take this from experimental to practical applications,” Bao said. “But after spending many years in this work, I now see a clear path where we can take our artificial skin.”