Electronic Skin for a Sensation-al Upgrade


This electronic skin can upgrade astronaut space suits and make robots more human with a sense of touch and pain

A team of engineers at the Johns Hopkins University and Singapore Institute of Neurotechnology has created e-dermis, an electronic skin made with sensors that can emulate nerve endings and create a sense of touch, making it comparable to a human hand.

Electronic skin can enhance prosthetics

By sensing stimuli, e-dermis can generate a sense of touch and pain and then transmit the sensations to the peripheral nerves. This can upgrade prosthetic hands and help the wearer not only know the texture of an object but also detect potential danger. Additionally, the upgrade can be applied to lower limb prostheses.

“We’ve made a sensor that goes over the fingertips of a prosthetic hand and acts like your own skin would,” says Luke Osborn, a graduate student in biomedical engineering. “It’s inspired by what is happening in human biology, with receptors for both touch and pain.

Although electronic skin is not a recent advancement, researchers have focused on shape and pain perception to make this e-dermis a possible upgrade in prosthetics as well as astronaut attire. Researchers have said that the technology can be applied in astronaut gloves and space suits.

No pain, no gain

Prosthetics generally help an amputee to retrieve lost body-functions. Their application can be enhanced by electronic skin’s provision of sense and touch. Researchers have said that the skin can detect a range of sensations from light touch to harmful or painful ones.

The team has created a “neuromorphic model” based on human biology that recreates the touch and pain receptors of the human nervous system. The team also tracked the test subject’s brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG). Further, tests were performed on a volunteer via transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) that have reported reflex actions on triggering with sharp objects. However, the e-dermis is not sensitive to temperature.