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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 @12:33PM (#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 Ukab the Great (87152) on Monday September 13, 2010 @12:36PM (#33563128)

      Actually my first thought was sensory enhanced black latex cat suit that electrocutes bad guys.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by cygnwolf (601176)
        ^ 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 GarryFre (886347)
        Mine was can it double as a bug zapper for mosquitoes and other pests?
      • by vidnet (580068)

        From TFS: 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

        My first thought was that this was resistive based touch technology -- that's sooo last year! And surely skin must be one of the best applications for multi-touch.

    • by danlip (737336) on Monday September 13, 2010 @12:42PM (#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.

      • by Cstryon (793006)

        Also, if they couldn't properly connect it to the nervous system, the patch of skin it stimulates could be on the same arm, maybe under where the prosthesis fits. It may be my elbow feeling the tingle, but after a while, I will adapt to recognize that tingle as being somewhere on the back of my fake hand.

    • While this may not be able to simulate human feeling, this could have implications on having limbs react with normal reflexes
    • by sea4ever (1628181)

      I don't see mention of how this could possibly connect to human nerves. Is that kind of thing even possible?

      If I remember correctly, prosthetics connecting directly to nerves pop up in the news from time to time. There's an article from SingularityHub on something like this. here it is. [singularityhub.com]
      That fake limb in the article can feel, it has no skin though. So maybe now that there is electric skin we can put them together and get a cyborg arm.

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

      • 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.

        This sounds like a pretty useless robot to me.
        • This sounds like a pretty useless robot to me.

          I billed it as a feature, but robot Nixom demanded that the tax-nonpayers be delivered intact to the Pain Monster. Something about 4 limbs being necessary for a quartering.

    • by VanGarrett (1269030) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:24PM (#33564552) Homepage

      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?

      This is something which is already done with some current prosthetic limbs. Nerve endings from severed limbs are surgically transplanted to convenient mounting locations [youtube.com]. Simple pressure-sensitive structures on the surface of the prosthetic fingers then transmit a signal to the contacting device on the other end of the artificial limb, which in turn, transfer that data to the transplanted nerve ending, by applying equivalent pressure. The prosthetic device is stimulating the same nerves that the original hand did, so the user experiences the sensation as though he still had it, with no need to re-learn signal patterns. Some cutting-edge prosthetics can also pick up nerve signals, and move at the command of the mind, rather than requiring the user to do something more awkward, such as wearing a pressure-sensitive insole in his shoe, and adjusting his balance, every time he wants to lift a spoon to his mouth.

  • Will my electric grandma have this?
  • How long will it be before anybody develops artificial skin that matches anybody's skin color other than slightly tanned white males?
    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      If they can't make Band-Aids like that, why would they be able to make artificial skin like that?
    • The future is now with every color available! Why just be one race, that's not just boring, it's racist. Plus; electroluminescent tattoos with themes. What could possibly go wrong?

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

      by FauxPasIII (75900) on Monday September 13, 2010 @12:55PM (#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 sea4ever (1628181)
      Can't they just use dye/ink within/beneath the 'skin'? Like real skin does? (Except it's not dye but is something-or-other-which-I-can't-remember)
      I doubt that the dye would disrupt it in any way. According the the summary it's a plastic polymer over something electric-ey, so the plastic bit most probably could be any color/texture you want.
    • by Megahard (1053072)
      Personally, I would like skin that could put on a color display like a cuttlefish [youtube.com].
  • These electrical skin granting systems are inFamous for their tricky deliveries. Last time the delivery boy opened the package en route, hilarity ensued.
  • My first thought (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MagikSlinger (259969) on Monday September 13, 2010 @12:49PM (#33563296) Homepage Journal

    Was thinking about teledildonics [wikipedia.org].

    Or the Major from Ghost in the Shell.

    But that's not really mutually exclusive. ;-)

  • First Contact (Score:3, Informative)

    by SOOPRcow (1279010) on Monday September 13, 2010 @12:56PM (#33563398)
    Nerd point of order: Data's new skin in First Contact was actual organic human skin grafted over his exoskeleton.
    • The butcher was running around in some person's SKIN the whole time!!?!?!!?!

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

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday September 13, 2010 @01:33PM (#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.

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

        It is also sometimes a 'gift' to the actor. A lot of times the actor DOES have a problem that we don't have a current solution for but the 'future' world likely would. Rather than punish the actor by having them attempt to do a scene without glasses, or expect them to not suffer from arthritis, they will write in either some impediment to what we would expect the cure to be, or write in a new diseas

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          I'm sure that's true in a lot of cases, but an actor on the soundstage doesn't need reading glasses because he's not really reading. It makes no difference if he can actually see the book; the book is just a prop.

          • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            You assume the actor knows the lines and isn't actually reading them. Shatner's classic stuttering monologue style was merely a way of coping with the limited amount of text that could fit on the teleprompter at once.

            • by bar-agent (698856)

              You assume the actor knows the lines and isn't actually reading them. Shatner's classic stuttering monologue style was merely a way of coping with the limited amount of text that could fit on the teleprompter at once.

              No, Shatner knows his lines. That is important to his sense of professionalism, according to an interview I read recently (which I think was posted here on Slashdot.)

              • No, Shatner knows his lines. That is important to his sense of professionalism, according to an interview I read recently (which I think was posted here on Slashdot.)

                He had to. One day the teleprompter was sabataaged. Shatner, being the consumate professional, memorized the entire script for all characters and communicated it to the rest of them via sign language.

                • by bar-agent (698856)

                  One day the teleprompter was sabataaged. Shatner, being the consumate professional, memorized the entire script for all characters and communicated it to the rest of them via sign language.

                  He was able to disguise the sign language so it looked like he was just hamming it up for the camera. The viewers didn't notice. That's just how good he is.

  • These will be easy to spot. It'll likely be future developments that create the real problem for the Connor family.

  • by jameskojiro (705701) on Monday September 13, 2010 @02:12PM (#33564354) Journal

    Now we can make them feel pain and keep them in line.

  • Does anyone else find the phrasing "X, anyone?" REALLY REALLY annoying? It sounds like a smarmy game show host. "Hint hint, wink wink," that sort of thing.

  • ...everything from watch construction, to watch repair.
  • "Babygirl, turn me on with your electric feel"
  • If they can get signals from the "electric skin" to normal nerves, this might be seriously important to folks who've had burns over a large part of their bodies, so that they can feel again (house or industrial fires? car wrecks? wars?)

                    mark

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