New Artificial Skin Is the Future of Prosthetics

My following article below was originally published by SERIOUS WONDER:

Artificial Prosthetic Skin 4
Kim et al./Nature Communications

Prosthetic limbs have been the talk of the year lately, with the growing advancements and possibilities they provide. From low-cost 3D-printed prosthetics to robotic ones that are controlled via the mind, the implications to such a technology are practically limitless. Lately, however, the biggest hurdle prosthetic industries have been trying to tackle is the ability to provide a realistic sense of touch – for both the wearer and whomever they’re in contact with.

Thanks to researchers at the Seoul National University, Republic of Korea, a new artificial skin has been developed which will not only help the wearer have a greater sense of touch, but also provide a realistic human skin texture for everyone else.

Artificial Prosthetic Skin 2
Kim et al./Nature Communications

“Here we demonstrate smart prosthetic skin instrumented with ultrathin, single crystalline ​silicon nanoribbon strain, pressure and temperature sensor arrays as well as associated humidity sensors, electroresistive heaters and stretchable multi-electrode arrays for nerve stimulation. This collection of stretchable sensors and actuators facilitate highly localized mechanical and thermal skin-like perception in response to external stimuli, thus providing unique opportunities for emerging classes of prostheses and peripheral nervous system interface technologies.” – Abstract of Artificial Skin Study | Nature Communications

Artificial Prosthetic Skin 1
Kim et al./Nature Communications

Composed of transparent silicone material called polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), this stretchy artificial skin has the capability of sensing pressure, temperature, and humidity. This will provide the capacity of grasping objects and acquiring a sense of weight, texture, and whether the object is hot or cold. A heater is subsequently built inside, which facilitates the sensation of being actual living tissue.

Artificial Prosthetic Skin 3
Kim et al./Nature Communications

The full study can be found online, published in the journal Nature Communications.

FUTURE IMPLICATIONS

This new artificial skin should be seen as a breakthrough in the field of engineering. With its humidity sensor, those wearing a prosthetic limb will be able to distinguish dry objects from wet objects. With its temperature sensor, they’ll be able to differentiate cold objects from hot objects. And with its pressure sensor, their ability to grasp objects will be far more efficient than ever before. The disabled are becoming abled once again.

But what does this mean for future wearers? Unlike biological limbs, artificial ones are susceptible to self-designed changes. Don’t like the texture of your skin? Swap it out for a new texture. Don’t like the length or design of your arm or leg? Walk into a Body Shop and get a new one to your liking. Why do the limbs necessarily have to look human? For some, they may want to switch out their running limbs for climbing limbs. We’re now reaching that point in the prosthesis market in which not only makes the disabled abled again, but also augmented!

“Man, for actively evolutionary thinkers, is a being in transition, in the process of growing, far from complete, but also consciously creative, called upon to overcome not only the outer world but also his own inner nature.” – Svetlana Semenova

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