Scientists Create 'Electronic Skin' That Can React To Pain Like Human Skin

Scientists Create 'Electronic Skin' That Can React To Pain Like Human Skin

RMIT University (Australia) researchers have recently created electronic artificial skin that mimics the human body's near-instant feedback response and can react to painful sensations with the same lightning speed that nerve signals travel to the brain.

The team’s paper was published in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems.

According to lead researcher Professor Madhu Bhaskaran, the discovery brings scientists one step closer to intelligent robotics and biotechnology to create smarter skin grafts and prosthetics solutions for humans.

Artificial skin receptors with such feedback capability can replace damaged receptors, enhance the sensation of specific stimuli, or act as a feedback mechanism for human-machine or machine-machine interfaces.

The research team developed and patented three technologies to create pressure and pain-sensing prototypes: stretchable electronics, temperature-reactive coatings, and brain-mimicking memory.

When the pressure, heat, or pain reached a certain threshold, electronic memory cells in each prototype triggered a response. According to the paper, electronic memory cells mimic how the brain uses long-term memory to recall and retain information.

Lead researcher Professor Madhu Bhaskaran said, "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."

According to Md Ataur Rahman, a researcher at RMIT University, "While some existing technologies have used electrical signals to mimic different levels of pain, these new devices can react to real mechanical pressure, temperature and pain, and deliver the right electronic response."

"It means our artificial skin knows the difference between gently touching a pin with your finger or accidentally stabbing yourself with it – a critical distinction that has never been achieved before electronically," Rahman also added.

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