Artificial Skin That's Way More Sensitive to Touch Than The Real Thing

Scientists have created a paper-thin flexible "skin" that can detect pressure that's a few hundred times lighter than a gentle touch. This new material could eventually make its way into artificial or robotic limbs — but for now researchers have found that it is absolutely amazing at reading a pulse.

We recently told you about new artificial skin that's as sensitive to touch as our fingertips. That sensor was made out of piezoelectric materials, which generate currents when subjected to pressure or twisting.

This new skin is a bit different, according to TechNewsDaily.

The skin is essentially a large transistor. To replicate organic skin’s sense capabilities, the team used stacked layers made up of different polymers that convert pressure to an electric current that can be measured.

The artificial skin can currently sense pressures of less than 10 kilopascals, or less than a pound per square inch. That is much less pressure than a gentle touch, [researcher Zhenan Bao] said. Because it’s made of softer polymers, the "skin" is also flexible, unlike pressure sensors that use more conventional semiconducting materials.

Naturally, the new pressure sensor has a number of possible uses. The researchers have already demonstrated that it could be used to read a person's pulse better than you can with your fingers. When you take your pulse, each beat you feel is actually made up of two distinct pulses — a large peak from your heart pumping out blood and a smaller wave bouncing back from your lower body, according to a press release. Comparing the relative sizes of these two peaks can give an indication of your heart's health.

A cool development indeed, though we are still waiting for such skin to be integrated into prosthetic limbs — scientists must first get around the inherent difficulties with plugging the sensors into a person's neurosystem.

Read more at LiveScience and TechNewsDaily. Check out the study in Nature Communications.

Top image courtesy of Linda A. Cicero.