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Stretchy synthetic skin has sense of touch and warmth

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 - 01:51

The first prosthetic skin to simulate the sense of touch is being developed by researchers at Seoul National University. The smart artificial skin can even tell if a baby's diaper is wet. Amy Pollock reports.

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It's soft, warm, and can sense pressure, heat and humidity - just like human skin. This is 'smart' artificial skin and it's the first to simulate the sense of touch. Its developers at South Korea's Seoul National University say they aimed to create a material as close to human skin as possible. Professor Kim Dae-Hong: (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) SOUTH KOREAN PROFESSOR, SCHOOL OF CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL ENGINEERING AT SEOUL NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, KIM DAE-HYEONG, SAYING: "We developed the synthetic skin which has the sense of feeling that exactly copies human skin. The skin can feel pressure, temperature, strain, humidity. Also it is soft, just like human skin, and embedded with heating elements that can make itself warm." The warm prosthetic skin matches the temperature of the human body. And its layers give it its sense of touch. (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) SOUTH KOREAN PROFESSOR, SCHOOL OF CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL ENGINEERING AT SEOUL NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, KIM DAE-HYEONG, SAYING: "The bottom layer of skin is rubbery material that can express the softness of human skin. Above the rubber layer, there is ultra thin polyimide and then silicon, which acts as sensors." Researchers have combined their stretchy skin with a prosthetic hand and found it can be used for complex operations. Hand-shaking, keyboard-tapping and ball-grasping are all possible. And its humidity sensors mean it can even tell the difference between a dry diaper and a wet one. The researchers hope the ultra-thin skin will be able to send sensory signals to the brain. At the moment, this has only been demonstrated in small animals. But Professor Kim has high hopes for the future of his team's prosthetic skin. (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) SOUTH KOREAN PROFESSOR, SCHOOL OF CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL ENGINEERING AT SEOUL NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, KIM DAE-HYEONG, SAYING: "I hope a robotic limb with this synthetic skin can be used by disabled people. For industrial uses, it can be applied to various types of robots, like a humanoid robot." The developers envisage the synthetic skin being used by amputees. But a diaper-changing robot could also come in handy.

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Stretchy synthetic skin has sense of touch and warmth

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 - 01:51