Technology 3 min read

New Artificial Skin can Feel Pain Like the Human Skin

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andreas16057 /

The skin is the largest sensory organ in the human body.

It helps us to sense various elements of our surroundings all the time. However, our pain response only kicks in at specific times — for example, when we touch something hot.

That’s because our skin has tons of complex features that help send a rapid-fire warning to the brain when we hurt. Expectedly, scientists have tried to mimic this capability.

In 2018, researchers from Johns Hopkins University developed an artificial skin that gives prosthetic handssense of touch. After that, a team from the University of Connecticut created a prototype to help burn victims feel again.

Following a similar step, a team of researchers from RMIT University has created an artificial skin that reacts to pain like human skin.

The applications of such technology are numerous, including improved prosthetic and better alternatives to skin grafts. It could also contribute to the development of more realistic humanoids.

In a statement about the project, research lead and co-author of the paper, Madhu Bhaskaran, said:

“It’s a critical step forward in the future development of the sophisticated feedback systems that we need to deliver truly smart prosthetics and intelligent robotics.”

The researchers described the device in a published paper in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems.

Creating an Artificial Skin that Feels Pain

Fingers holding a transparent a artificial skin
The stretchable prototype that reacts to changes in temperature and pressure. / RMIT University

The artificial skin from the RMIT University team mimics the nerve pathways that connect the skin receptors to the brain. That way, it can replicate the human body’s fast feedback response.

After creating the original prototype, the researchers developed two others that have additional features. One was a thinner and stretchable material that can respond to changes in temperature and pressure.

On the other hand, the third artificial skin prototype was made from a fragile coating. As a result, it was roughly 1,000 times thinner than a single human hair, and it reacts to changes in heat.

So, what makes this artificial skin any different from the others?

According to the researchers, these technologies mimicked different levels of pain using an electrical signal. The RMIT prototypes, on the other hand, can react to real mechanical pressure, temperature, and pain.

What’s more, it would deliver the right electronic response, said one of the researchers, Ataur Rahman.

He explained:

“It means our artificial skin knows the difference between gently touching a pin with your finger or accidentally stabbing yourself with it — a critical distinction that has never been achieved before electronically.”

The researchers, however, admitted that further studies are necessary to integrate the technology into biomedical applications.

Read More: New Skin-Like Sensor Could Bring Human Touch to Soft Robots

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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