A team at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia has successfully developed a robotic skin that responds to stimuli such as pain like real skin. That means they are taking an important step towards smart machines and bionic prosthetics, the team said. For example, this technology lets amputees know if they are picking up sharp or dangerous items and makes machines more durable and safe in a human environment.
Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia say they have pioneered the creation of devices that can respond to pain stimuli at unprecedented granularity.
Like the nerve signals sent to the human brain, it can be used to tell if a sharp or burning object has been stimulated.
“We’ve created a substantial electronic sensor that replicates the body’s complex neurons, neural pathps, and key features of the receiver system, driving our perception of stimuli,” said Md Ataur Rahman, a ph.D. researcher.
While there are technologies that can use electrical signals to simulate different pain levels, the new devices can respond to actual mechanical pressure, temperature, and pain stimulation and provide the correct electronic response.
RMIT’s artificial skin, for example, can tell the difference between a finger tap on a pin or pain that accidentally sticks into a finger, something no other research team has ever done before.
Study drawings (from: Advanced Intelligent Systems)
It is reported that the RMIT team has been working on three separate sensing technologies. It is made of a retractable electronic material (bio-compatible silicones) that is as thick as a thin layer of stickers.
It is coated with a temperature-aware coating that responds to changes in heat and has electronic units designed to mimic the storage of brain information. Lead researcher Professor Madhu Bhaskaran said.
We’ve been seeing things through the skin, but our pain responses only come at certain moments, such as when touching an overheated or sharp object.
So far, no electronic technology has been able to realistically mimic this pain sensation. RMIT’s artificial skin responds immediately when pressure, heat, or cold reach painful thresholds.
This is a key step in developing the complex feedback systems needed for truly intelligent prosthetics, or robots, in the future.
In addition, with further work, the RMIT team believes that electronic skin could one day be an option for non-invasive skin grafts.
Bhaskaran added: “We need further development to integrate this technology into biomedical applications. It now has biosynthics and basic properties such as skin-like elasticity.”
Details of the study have been published in the recently published journal Advanced Intelligent Systems under the original title Somatosensors: Feedback Receptors for Electronic Skins.