The University of Toronto’s touch-sensitive artificial skin works in a similar way to real things

Medicine, software robotics and wearable electronics are just a few of the areas that can benefit from new hydrogels applied to humans. This transparent material can be sensed when touched, bent, heated or otherwise manipulated. A team at the University of Toronto has developed a new hydrogel, actually made from two tablets with opposite charges that are stacked on top of each other.

The University of Toronto's touch-sensitive artificial skin works in a similar way to real things

When the material is subjected to mechanical strain, humidity, or temperature changes in an area, positiveand and negatively charged ions move through the connection between the two layers. This movement occurs at the so-called “sensing junction” of the hydrogel surface and can be measured as an electrical signal. This inexpensive material also has a high adhesion, high stretchability and biocompatibility, so it can be easily adhered to the skin without breaking or premature peeling. Therefore, it is called “artificial ion skin”, or AISkin for short.

The researchers hope that after further development, it could be used by users in items such as gloves that measure the movement of the fingers of hand-rehabilitating patients, wearable touchpads for gamers, or touch-sensitive fingers on flexible robot grips that handle delicate objects.

Scientists also hope to add Biosensors to AISkin so that the resulting bandages or sportswear can measure the biomarkers in the user’s sweat or other body fluids.

The University of Toronto's touch-sensitive artificial skin works in a similar way to real things

Lead scientist Professor Liu Xinyu said: “When human skin senses heat or stress, our nerve cells pass information through ions – it’s really not that different from artificial skin. “

The study was presented in a paper published this week in the journal Materials Horizons.