Smart Skin Could Help People With Prosthetics Regain Sense of Touch

Although smart skin is not ready for human use yet, sensor tests for heat, cold and moisture show promise.
Publish date:
Social count:
Although smart skin is not ready for human use yet, sensor tests for heat, cold and moisture show promise.

Prosthetic hands can grip and grasp, and one day they may also have the ability to feel thanks to smart skin. Live Science reports that the new prosthetic skin “is packed with many different kinds of sensors” and “could one day help people with prosthetic limbs regain their sense of touch.”

How do the sensors work? According to the smart skin study published in Nature Communications, it’s equipped with “pressure and temperature sensor arrays as well as associated humidity sensors.” So if smart skin is applied to a prosthetic hand, the person will be able to sense hot and cold surfaces and even detect moisture. You can view the mulitude of gold and silicon sensors in the smart skin photo below.

smart skin

Photo courtesy of Dae-Hyeong Kim/Nature Communications

According to IFLScience, scientists tested to see how well a prosthetic hand wrapped in smart skin could sense moisture by poking at “diapers with varying degrees of wetness.” That’s pretty much the ultimate test for moisture, at least for any parent with a newborn. Amazingly, the smart skin was able to “tell which ones were wet or dry.”

Live Science says there are “safety concerns” about electrodes on the smart skin that are meant to “stimulate nerves to relay sensor data to the brain” could break up and “enter the bloodstream and cause damage.” Because of this, smart skin is limited to animals trials for now. 

Dae-Hyeong Kim, the co-author of the smart skin study and a biomedical engineer at Seoul National University, appears optimistic that humans will be able to use smart skin soon.

“In a few years, I expect to see prosthetic devices made of prosthetic skin that detects external stimuli and responds like real skin, operated by brain signals,” Kim was quoted as saying in a Huffington Post story.

Top photo courtesy of Dae-Hyeong Kim/Nature Communications