In 2015, researchers at Stanford University developed artificial human skin capable of sensing touch, and relaying that information to the body’s nervous system. This was considered a monumental breakthrough in the field of human prosthetics, with hopes that this new technology would further help amputees and other disabled individuals get closer to living life the way they did before suffering their injuries.
In the years since, scientists and engineers remained determined to build on this advancement. Researchers at Glasgow University in Scotland have helped fulfil those promises by developing a new kind of artificial skin that has a higher degree of sensitivity than actual human skin. Composed of a single atomic graphene layer, the soft-feeling epidermis acts as its own touch sensor. The sensors are so sensitive they can detect touches as light as .11 kPa.
The real takeaway from this newly-designed artificial skin isn’t so much its high sensitivity to feeling touch, but the fact that this artificial skin runs on solar power.
The skin contains solar panels under its graphene layer, which is capable of absorbing over 98 percent of available sunlight. The most innovative aspect behind this design feature is how prosthetics are usually battery-powered and operated, involving small networks of wires and machinery installed that the user must learn to adapt. The artificial skin’s pressure sensors are built so they can consume up to 20 nanowatts of electricity per square centimeter, which are made of graphene- 2D material that’s just a one atom-thick sheet of carbon.
Despite hopes of making the skin appear more authentic for robots and amputees, the membranes remain transparent so photovoltaic cells below the graphene sensors can absorb light from their surrounding environment. Not only does the solar-powered aspect of the artificial skin eliminate the need for the excess equipment, but the panels produce more power than needed. Ironically, researchers have begun to try figuring out ways to store the excess energy into batteries as a result.
Since the artificial skin material if capable of detecting the slightest movements, researchers hope to broaden the number of ways they can use it moving forward. The skin’s sensors can potentially be used to make accurate sweat sensors for gym clothes, while the solar-powered components can be used to potentially power devices like glucose monitors so doctors can observe patients who don’t have access to electricity.
While it’s unknown when this artificial skin will become publically available, the low prices of silicon and graphene have led projected costs for this innovative prosthetic to be around $350. When compared to battery-operated prosthesis, this price figure is significantly cheaper, considering how these conventional brands of prosthetics can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine), Sensors (pressure)