Bionic ears and eyes are already a reality, and with the strides made by a team of scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology led by Professor Hossam Haick, artificial skin may soon become a possibility as well. The group was able to create a flexible sensor that could potentially be used to recreate the human body’s largest organ. The sensor can simultaneously collect data on temperature, pressure, and humidity and is 10 times more sensitive than similar technologies currently on the market. If the sensor could be integrated into e-skin, prosthetic limbs could one day be outfitted with the invention and made even more like a true extremity.
In addition to being able to detect a wide range of stimuli, the sensor is also able to run on very low voltage so as to be compatible with current battery designs. The research team used monolayer-capped nanoparticles 5-8 nanometers in diameter made of gold to construct the components. The nanoparticles resemble the center of flowers, while a monolayer of ligands surround the middle like petals. The “flowers” are laid on top of PET plastic, and conducts electricity differently depending on how they are bent. By changing the distance between the units when flexing, electrons flow either faster or slower, assisting the sensory array in picking up pressures from tens of milligrams to tens of grams.
The sensor is able to be customized by making adjustments to the thickness of the substrate. Future applications include an outer layer of e-skin for a new generation of prosthetics, finding cracks in engines, and assessing strain on infrastructure such as roads or bridges. Most exciting is the possibility for those with nerve damage to regain some sort of feeling in artificial anatomy, improving function and the quality of life.