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Biotech Input Devices Medicine Robotics Science

Two Research Groups Create 'Electric Skin' 52

Posted by Soulskill
from the toasters-look-like-us-now dept.
Flash Modin writes "Two separate teams, one from UC Berkeley and the other from Stanford, have created distinct types of artificial skin that could find uses in prosthetics or artificial intelligence (Data in First Contact, anyone?). The first team coupled organic electronics with an elastic polymer to make electric skin that could sense a butterfly landing on it (abstract). The second team put a flexible material over a conductive rubber compound which had transistors implanted in it. The device can sense touch when the rubber is compressed, changing the electrical resistance (abstract)."
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Two Research Groups Create 'Electric Skin'

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  • by iONiUM (530420) on Monday September 13, 2010 @01:33PM (#33563082) Homepage Journal

    I guess everyone's first thought will be that they can use this with prosthetics so someone with a fake limb can actually feel. But, I don't see mention of how this could possibly connect to human nerves. Is that kind of thing even possible?

    On a separate note, it would probably be annoying considering many prosthetics these days are still really crappy. Until we have a true cyborg limb that can respond to nerve signals, and indeed respond with this fake skin's input, it seems kind of useless. Maybe there's another use I'm missing?

  • by cygnwolf (601176) on Monday September 13, 2010 @01:41PM (#33563192)
    ^ This. Truthfully though, without any mention of how it could talk to a nervous system and back, I think the best it'll do is being a new form of input for robots, esp. ones that are working with delicate tasks.
  • by danlip (737336) on Monday September 13, 2010 @01:42PM (#33563212)

    Not only possible but fairly trivial. You don't have to tie directly into the nervous system, you can use the electrical signal to stimulate another patch of skin, and the brain will quickly learn to interpret the signal properly. But it is also possible (but less trivial) to tie directly into the nervous system - this is done on a regular basis with cochlear implants, and there are a few experimental retinal implants now too.

  • Re:What color? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FauxPasIII (75900) on Monday September 13, 2010 @01:55PM (#33563384)

    > How long will it be before anybody develops artificial skin that matches anybody's skin color other than slightly tanned white males?

    Oh, I think pale asian female will probably be along soon enough.

  • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:01PM (#33563452)

    Maybe there's another use I'm missing?

    Robotics.

    It's been a while since I designed any robots, but there is a big problem with robots in general in that unless you explicitly design sensors to detect something, it won't.

    I can't get into the applications here (there are just too many) but having the ability to feel objects not perfectly lined up with the robot's programmed path could help prevent a lot of injuries.

    Imagine a robot with this skin wrapped around it, as it moves, it comes into contact with something that it shouldn't have (Some guy), it immediately can stop that motion and hopefully just bruise the guy instead of just continuing mindlessly and slicing the guys arm off or crushing him to death.

    That's just an off the top guess, but I would also very much like a robotic grasping arm that could sense pressure. It's easy to design something to grasp, and maybe even put in some resistance (ie: hooke's law), but getting a feel for the force it exerts and the exact positioning of that force could be very useful.

    Imagine a grasping arm that doesn't need to be perfectly aligned with an object and could react to the thing it was grasping (ie: reducing the movement of one 'finger' if it felt the object slipping) being able to compensate for a misaligned object could be very useful.

  • Re:First Contact (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:33PM (#33563864) Homepage Journal

    Data's new skin in First Contact was actual organic human skin grafted over his exoskeleton.

    I think that was his point -- that in some ways we've surpassed what Star Trek's writers could imagine just a short time ago. Like Star Trek II when McCoy couldn't cure Kirk's age related presbyopia; all he would have had to do would be transport Kirk's lenses out of his eyes, and transport a CrystaLens in its place.

    I have one in my left eye (although they used a needle to remove/replace, of course). It not only cured my steroid-induced cataract, it cured my extreme myopia and my age-related presbyopia. If I'd had astigmatism it would have cured that too. I'm 58 and don't have to wear any corrective lenses at all after wearing thick glasses all my life.

    But Star Trek's writers couldn't envision a focusable artificial lens, and had Kirk wearing reading glasses.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday September 13, 2010 @03:32PM (#33564648) Homepage Journal

    Does your grandma dream of android sheep?

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