Pioneer Research Unveils Electronic Skin That Can Feel Pain

Researchers from RMIT University in Australia have created an artificial skin that electronically reacts to pain stimuli like human skin. This has paved the way for intelligent robotics and far better prosthetics to be developed as well as the development of alternative skin grafts which are non-invasive.

The prototype device imitates the body’s instant feedback response and reacts with the same speed as the nerve signals would when they travel to the human brain.

Madhu Bhaskaran, a professor who is also the lead researcher, stated that the prototype was a remarkable advancement towards intelligent robotics and future biomedical technologies. He added that no electronic technologies had been able to mimic the feeling of pain as realistically as his team did.

While humans sense things around the clock, our pain response activates when an individual touches something that is too sharp or too hot. The artificial skin also reacts in the same way when cold, heat or pressure reach a painful threshold.

This prototype, he asserted, was an important and progressive step in the development of advanced feedback systems in the future.

Apart from the prototype that senses pain, the research team also created devices that can sense as well as respond to changes in pressure and temperature using stretchable electronics.

Bhaskaran, who is also a co-leader of the RMIT Functional Materials and Microsystems group, stated that the prototypes were developed with the aim of showing the main features of the artificial skin’s ability to sense in electronic form.

The stretchable artificial skin could further be developed to be used as an alternative for non-invasive skin grafts, in the event that the conventional approach is not working or viable.

The team filed their research as a provisional patent and published it in Advanced Intelligent Systems. It combines 3 technologies that were also developed and patented by the team i.e.

  1. Temperature-reactive coatings
  2. Stretchable electronics
  3. Brain-mimicking memory

The prototypes that sense pressure combine the memory cells and stretchable electronics while the pain sensor combines all 3 technologies. The heat sensor integrates memory and temperature-reactive coatings.

Md Ataur Rahman, who is a PhD researcher asserted that the memory cells present in each prototype were what triggered a response when heat, pressure or pain reached a preprogrammed threshold. He stated that these new devices could react to real pain, mechanical pressure and temperature and also convey the right electronic response, as compared to some of the existing technologies, which can only mimic different pain levels using electrical signals.

Simply put, the artificial skin can tell the difference between a pin prick and a stab, which is something that had not been achieved before.

Analysts say such findings open up a lot of possibilities regarding the innovations that biomedical companies like 180 Life Sciences Corp. can come up with.

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