Researchers have developed an electronic artificial skin which responds to pain

Service Engineering

Researchers from RMIT University, Melbourne, have developed an electronic artificial skin which responds to pain, and claim that it may lead to progress in more intelligent robotics, prosthetics and non-invasive alternatives to skin grafts.

In addition to the state-of-the-art prototype, the team claimed they also built devices using stretchable electronics that can respond and sense to pressure and temperature changes.

“Researchers from RMIT University, Melbourne, have developed an electronic artificial skin which responds to pain.“

Biocompatible silicone is combined with stretchable electronics that fuse oxide materials to produce flexible, transparent and unbreakable electronics. It also offers temperature-reactive coatings based on a polymer that transforms in reaction to heat and electronic memory cells that mimic how long-term memory is used by the brain to retain and sustain previous information.

The research is published in Advanced Intelligent Systems.

The prototype pressure sensor blends long-term memory cells and stretchable circuitry; the heat sensor combines reactive temperature coatings and memory, while the pain sensor incorporates all three technologies.

PhD researcher, Md Ataur Rahman, stated: “We’ve essentially created the first electronic somatosensors, replicating the key features of the body’s complex system of neurons, neural pathways and receptors that drive our perception of sensory stimuli. While some existing technologies have used electrical signals to mimic different levels of pain, these new devices can react to real mechanical pressure, temperature and pain and deliver the right electronic response. It means our artificial skin knows the difference between gently touching a pin with your finger or accidentally stabbing yourself with it, a critical distinction that has never been achieved before electronically.”

Professor Madhu Bhaskaran, Lead researcher, stated: “Skin is our body’s largest sensory organ, with complex features designed to send rapid fire warning signals when anything hurts. 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. We need further development to integrate this technology into biomedical applications but the fundamentals, biocompatibility, skin like stretchability, are already there.”

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