New artificial skin touches and “feels” objects, researchers say

by Anne Zieger on September 14, 2010

The e-skin is formed into a glove shape

The e-skin is formed into a glove shape

Here’s some research which,  if it comes to fruition, could change medicine, biotech and perhaps manufacturing too. If nothing else, it should give us another chance to redefine what having “senses” really means.

A group of California researchers say they’re getting close to creating an artificial form of skin which, though it  has no living parts, can touch and feel with  enough delicacy to handle an egg or force enough to lift a two-ton girder.

The researchers, who call their invention “e-skin,” are  led by  Ali Javey, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.

To create e-skin, Javey and his colleagues rolled and “printed” nanowires  onto bendable sheets of poylimide film, reports BusinesssWeek.  The process creates 18 by 19 pixel square matrixes which feature hundreds of semiconductor nanowires. Those squares are integrated with pressure-sensitive rubber, which is then formed into a glove-like shape.

What comes next for this technology?  Here’s what the researchers hope for:

Javey and his colleagues hope that the innovation could eventually be developed to help restore a sense of touch to patients with prosthetic limbs.

This long-range goal, however, would require many more major technological advances in order to enable researchers to integrate e-skin sensors with an individual’s nervous system.

All told, it looks like it will be many a day before this technology moves into mainstream medicine, if it ever does. But it’s hard to argue that this could be a big deal someday.

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