E-skin that is soft and communicates with the brain

Digital skin has been developed by Stanford University researchers that can convert heat and pressure into electrical signals that can be read by electrodes implanted in the human brain.

Even though this capability was developed years ago, the components needed to convert digital signals at the time were rigid and cumbersome.

The new e-skin is as supple as skin. The change components are flawlessly consolidated inside the skin, which is estimated to be two or three nanometers thick.

The development holds promise for a more natural interaction between the brain and artificial intelligence-based prosthetic limbs. It is likewise a step in the right direction in endeavors to develop robots that can “feel” human sensations like agony, tension, and temperature. This would permit robots working with mishap casualties, for example, to more likely connect with indications of solace or pain.

“Our ambition is to create a whole hand with multiple sensors that can detect pressure, strain, temperature, and vibration. Then we’ll be able to create a genuine sensation.”

Zhenan Bao, a chemical engineering professor at Stanford University,

Zhenan Bao, a chemical engineering professor at Stanford University who worked on the project, says, “Our dream is to make a whole hand where we have multiple sensors that can sense pressure, strain, temperature, and vibration.” Then we will actually want to give a genuine sort of sensation.”

According to the researchers, one of the main reasons people don’t use prosthetics is that they feel unnatural and uncomfortable without sensory feedback.

The e-skin was initially tested in rats’ brain cells. When their cortexes were stimulated, the animals’ legs twitched. The degree of twitching was proportional to the various pressure levels.

“Electronic skin would kill the boundary between the living body and machine parts,” the specialists said.

Their report, “The Vanishing Limit Among Creatures and Machines,” showed up in the journal Science this week.

The development of a low-voltage, flexible e-skin was an early obstacle. The initial attempts required 30 volts. The team was able to lower the voltage needed and increase efficiency by developing solid-state synaptic transistors and stretchable field-effect transistors, respectively.

“This new e-skin runs on only 5 volts and can recognize boosts like genuine skin,” said Weichen Wang, a creator of the paper who has chipped away at the undertaking for a very long time. “It offers electrical performance comparable to that of polysilicon transistors, including low voltage drive, low power consumption, and moderate circuit integration.

In March, researchers from the University of Edinburgh announced a related development. According to Yunjie Yang, the study leader for the university team, they developed an e-skin made of a thin layer of silicone embedded with wires and sensitivity detectors “to give soft robots the ability to sense things only millimeters away, in all directions, very quickly.”

The development “gives robots for the first time a level of physical self-awareness similar to that of people and animals,” according to a university press release.

More information: Tsuyoshi Sekitani, The disappearing boundary between organism and machine, Science (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.adf0262

Weichen Wang et al, Neuromorphic sensorimotor loop embodied by monolithically integrated, low-voltage, soft e-skin, Science (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.ade0086

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