Researchers from South Korea are working to develop an artificial skin that can fit over a prosthetic, and will stretch and receive sensory feedback in a way that mimics human tissue. The artificial skin, made of a flexible, transparent, silicone material called polydimethylsiloxane, is embedded with silicon nanoribbons that generate electricity when they’re squished or stretched, providing a source of tactile feedback, as well as being able to sense when an object is hot or cold.
Researchers tested the effectiveness of the artificial skin by having a prosthetic hand fitted with the skin touch both wet and dry diapers. The skin was not only able to determine which diapers were wet and which were dry, but it was also able to maintain a steady temperature compatible with the temperature of human skin. Additionally, the use of nanotechnology allowed researchers to adjust the elasticity of the artificial skin by changing the shape of the nanoribbons. In regions such as the fingertips where skin rarely stretches, the nanoribbons were packed in a tight linear pattern to maximize sensitivity. For areas like the wrist, which need more flexibility, the nanoribbons formed a looped pattern, allowing for up to 16% expansion.
The developers of this artificial skin hope that one day this technology will be paired with thought-controlled prosthetics to deliver sensory information about heat, cold, humidity, and texture directly to the brain of an amputee.
(Source: Popular Science)