WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
As sensors and flexible electronics start to combine it opens up new amazing possibilities.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut and University of Toronto have developed artificial skin that gives its wearer, whether they’re robots or humans, “superhuman abilities.” The stretchable skin pulls of this remarkable feat thanks to the fact it’s equipped with multi-functional sensors that, just like Spiderman and his spider senses, can sense strong magnetic fields and changes in pressure. Their research was published in the journal Advanced Materials.
“It is a new group of smart wearable electronics that are flexible, stretchable, shapable, and possess unique sensing capabilities that mimic human skin,” said postdoctoral fellow at UConn Islam Mosa. But it could also go beyond merely mimicking and enhancing human skin and our senses.
“It would be very cool if it had abilities human skin does not; for example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves, and abnormal behaviors,” added Mosa.
The artificial skin could have a number of uses – for instance it could assist during the disposal of hazardous materials, robotic search and rescue missions or even help with remote health care monitoring. It could even give back amputees and burn victims a degree of feeling.
The wearable uses a “multimodal ferrofluid‐based triboelectric nanogenerator” (FO-TENG) that’s essentially an elastic silicone nanotube filled with ferrofluid — a type of iron oxide nanoparticle fluid that can react to magnetic fields. The tube is wrapped with copper wire to allow electrical signals to be sent through it.
The skin also has “excellent waterproof ability, conformability, and stretchability” according to the paper, and could hold its shape for years.
But it’s not exactly flat like skin yet. The team of researchers still have to find a way to bring down the profile of their tubular prototype so it can act more like real skin, and the team are now waiting for approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are hoping that they can get it onto the market within a few years.