Artificial Skin with a Sense of Touch: The Future of Prosthetics

Robotics have significantly improved the way prosthetics function. These days, prosthetics are much more than just filling in what’s missing. Advanced robotics has added functionality into prosthetics, allowing amputees to do simple tasks like picking up a glass of water, tying shoelaces, or walking without a noticeable limp. The addition of artificial skin to the world of prosthesis has also enhanced the way they look and feel. Prosthetics are more lifelike and barely noticeable now.

To further develop prosthetics and their functionality, scientists have developed a way to capture sensation, transform it into electrical pulses, and transmit those pulses to the relevant part of the brain, thus giving a sense of touch. Although it’s still far from actual human applications, research results were promising as scientists have been able to send the touching sensation, as electrical pulses, to the appropriate brain cells in mice.

Artificial Skin with a Sense of Touch

How the Artificial Skin Works

The artificial skin is made of stretchy and flexible, skin-like synthetic rubber. It is designed to have a micron-scale pyramid-like surface, making the material extremely sensitive to pressure. This pressure-sensitive rubber is then sprinkled with carbon nanotubes, microscopic cylinders made of carbon that are highly conductive when they come in contact with even the slightest electrical pulses. This allows the sensors in the material to generate pulses of electricity when touched.

The series of pulses generated from the sensation created by the touch is then sent to the brain cells responsible for sensory perception, much like how touch receptors in real human skin sends sensations to the brain. Further experimentation has revealed that when the artificial skin was stimulated or touched, the mice brain cells would react similarly to that of brains reacting to the sensation produced by real skin being touched.

Although the study is still in its early stages, initial results have shown great promise as to the future of human prosthesis and how amputees could someday feel sensation from their prosthetic limbs.