Electronic Skin For Human Prosthetics

A new kind of flexible sensor that can 'feel' changes in temperature, touch, and humidity just like your skin has been prototyped at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

("Artificial skin" that senses touch, humidity and temperature)

The secret lies in the sensor's ability to detect three kinds of data simultaneously. While current kinds of e-skin detect only touch, the Technion team's invention "can simultaneously sense touch, humidity, and temperature, as real skin can do," says research team leader Professor Hossam Haick. Additionally, the new system "is at least 10 times more sensitive in touch than the currently existing touch-based e-skin systems."

Researchers have long been interested in flexible sensors, but have had trouble adapting them for real-world use. To make its way into mainstream society, a flexible sensor would have to run on low voltage (so it would be compatible with the batteries in today's portable devices), measure a wide range of pressures, and make more than one measurement at a time, including humidity, temperature, pressure, and the presence of chemicals. In addition, these sensors would also have to be able to be made quickly, easily, and cheaply.

The Technion team's sensor has all of these qualities. The secret is the use of monolayer-capped nanoparticles that are only 5-8 nanometers in diameter. They are made of gold and surrounded by connector molecules called ligands. In fact, "monolayer-capped nanoparticles can be thought of as flowers, where the center of the flower is the gold or metal nanoparticle and the petals are the monolayer of organic ligands that generally protect it," says Haick.

In one of my favorite novels, the 1966 novel This Immortal, Roger Zelazny refers to a robot wrestler named Rolem which is sensitive to pressure and touch:

A worthy opponent was the golem. Hasan had it programmed at twice the statistically-averaged strength of a man and had its reflex-time upped by fifty percent. Its memory contained hundreds of wrestling holds and its governor theoretically prevented it from killing or maiming its opponent - all through a series of chemelectric afferent nerve-analogues, which permitted it to gauge to an ounce the amount of pressure necessary to snap a bone or tear a tendon...

It doesn't really "see" its opponent with those eye-things it has; it's all sheathed about with piezo-electric radar mesentery, and it "watches " from all its surfaces.

See Technion Society for more details.

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