Electronic Artificial Skin Could Help Amputees Sense Touch, Temperature & Humidity

Scientists at the Haifa’s Technion Institute of Technology celebrated a medical breakthrough that could allow amputees to actually feel again.

By Sean Fitz-Gerald, Mashable

 

 

Researchers have developed a flexible sensor with the potential for integration into electronic skin. If successful, the e-skin could attach to prosthetic limbs, letting people with artificial appendages experience changes in their environments, such as touch, humidity and temperature, simultaneously.

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Image courtesy of Agustín Ruiz

This is a big step forward, per the Technion Society, as current forms of e-skin can only detect touch. The researchers developed the new system using gold particles and a kind of resin, which is at least 10 times more sensitive to touch than other touch-based e-skin systems.

An effective flexible sensor would reportedly have to operate on low voltage, measure a wide range of pressures and detect more than one kind of data at once in order to find mainstream adopters. The Technion team’s sensor purportedly boasts all of these qualities.

Worth its Weight in Gold

By AMERICAN TECHNION SOCIETY

Gold can be a dicey investment on world financial markets, but Technion scientists are reaping big gains in the lab by using the precious metal in the tiniest amounts imaginable.

Their latest advance: a new sensor containing nanoparticles of gold, which could improve diagnostic devices and even make artificial skin feel more like the real thing.

Electronic skin seeded with these amazingly small sensors would be far more sensitive to touch than current skin replacements, says research leader Prof. Hossam Haick, of the Technion Faculty of Chemical Engineering and the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute.

Prosthetic limbs sheathed in this “e-skin” could also sense changes in temperature, humidity and other environmental factors.

Scientists are still learning how to integrate electronic skin with artificial limbs and other prosthetics. And these tactile prosthetics would in turn have to be linked to the human nervous system.

“But this kind of research is progressing dramatically,” Prof. Haick says, pointing to projects such as a Swedish robot arm wired directly to the brain and other devices that can interpret neuron signals to complete tasks for an amputee or paralysis victim.

The Technion’s new sensors could be customized for many uses, Prof. Haick predicts, such as detecting engine cracks and monitoring strain on bridges. His team’s report, in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, emphasizes that they would be easily produced and run on common low-voltage batteries.

 

The secret? A layer of tiny gold particles placed atop a substrate of PET, the plastic used in soda bottles. These particles measure as little as five nanometers across — five billionths of a meter — connected by organic molecules with lengths that range between 1-2 billionths of a meter. As the electronic skin is bent or pressed, the sensors note changes in the level of electricity being conducted.

This conductivity is just one trait that has made gold a shining star in nanoresearch. Gold particles resist corrosion, are relatively non-toxic and are a lively catalyst in chemical reactions.

Health care offers exciting potential, with golddriven sensors able to detect a range of illnesses. Prof. Haick is already well known for the “Na-Nose,” a breath analyzer that shows promise for early diagnosis of cancer, kidney disease, Alzheimer‘s and Parkinson‘s.

 

View original AMERICAN TECHNION SOCIETY publication at: http://www.ats.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Eskin_landing

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View original Mashable publication at: http://mashable.com/2013/07/10/electronic-skin-amputees/
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About the Mashable Author:

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Sean Fitz-Gerald

 

 

 

Sean Fitz-Gerald is an editorial intern for Mashable. He joined the news team in June 2013 in the New York City headquarters. Fitz-Gerald has previously written for Variety, Los Angeles magazine and Santa Monica Daily Press. He is currently a student at the University of Southern California, where he got his start writing for and editing the Daily Trojan. For updates, follow him on Twitter, @srkfitzgerald

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