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at #3914Tingting ZhangKeymaster
In a huge breakthrough, scientists have successfully created electronic skin that reacts to pain. The new creation is the first of its kind, and sends instantaneous signals to the brain in responses to painful sensations – just like real skin.
The prototype was developed by researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, and has been described as ‘a significant advance towards next-generation biomedical technologies and intelligent robotics.’
Skin is our body’s largest sensory organ, with complex features designed to send rapid-fire warning signals when anything hurts. We’re sensing things all the time through the skin but our pain response only kicks in at a certain point, like when we touch something too hot or too sharp.
No electronic technologies have been able to realistically mimic that very human feeling of pain – until now. Our artificial skin reacts instantly when pressure, heat or cold reach a painful threshold. It’s a critical step forward in the future development of the sophisticated feedback systems that we need to deliver truly smart prosthetics and intelligent robotics.
The team at RMIT University developed three different prototype devices using stretchable electronics. These are a group of technologies for building electronic circuits by depositing or embedding electronic devices and circuits onto stretchable substrates such as silicones or polyurethanes.
As well as the prototypes responding to pain, the devices sense and respond to changes in temperature and pressure, delivering key features of skin’s sensing capability in electronic form and making it even more realistic.
Professor Madhu Bhaskaran won The Eureka Prize for her innovative creation back in 2017 prior to further developing the electronic skin to sense pain. The ‘skin’ is a combination of brittle oxide coatings, like the touchscreen on your smart phone, with soft silicone rubber.
Following her win three years ago, she said “As an RMIT researcher, every day you strive to shape a better world by delivering innovations that benefit Australian and international communities. My work on stretchable oxides carries clear environmental, health and community benefits.” to
In light of Professor Bhaskaran’s recent breakthrough, she hopes the electronic skin will go on to replace skin grafts where a traditional approach might not be feasible.
She added, “We need further development to integrate this technology into biomedical applications but the fundamentals – biocompatibility, skin-like stretchability – are already there.”
These new developments could be a real breakthrough in prosthetics and high-tech alternatives to skin grafts.
By: Niamh Shackleton
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