Prosthetics could be revolutionized by artificial skin that senses objects

Researchers have developed an artificial skin capable of sensing the force and static objects with specialized pressure sensors, flexible organic circuits, and other techniques. These sensory signals were transferred to mice’s brain cells in vitro by optogenetics. Optogenetics, a biotechnological technique that uses light to manipulate cells within living tissues (typically neurons), is called a biological method. This research may lead to the possibility that prosthetic limbs will one day feel like real limbs for millions of people around the world. Robotic hand model with artificial mechanoreceptors. (Image: Eurekalert. Credit to Bao Research Group at Stanford University. Global Biodesign Innovation Fellow Benjamin Tee and his team created a circuit out organic, flexible materials in order to create artificial skin. The system converts static pressure into digital signals, which change depending on the amount of mechanical force applied. Scientists create skin that feels like human skin The sensors were made of carbon nanotubes that have been molded into pyramidal-shaped microstructures. These nanotubes are extremely effective at tunneling signals from nearby objects to the receiving electrode. This optimizes the sensitivity. Flexible artificial mechanoreceptors that stretch to fit the skin. (Image: Eurekalert. Credit to Bao Research Group at Stanford University. Another challenge was to transfer the digital signal from man-made skin to mice’s cortical neurons. Conventional light-sensitive proteins in optogenetics don’t trigger long enough neural spikes for digital signals to be detected. Dr. Tee and his colleagues developed new optogenetic protein that allows for longer periods of stimulation. A model robot hand is equipped with artificial mechanoreceptors. (Image: Eurekalert. Credit to Bao Research Group at Stanford University. In vitro stimulation of rapidly-spiking interneurons in mice’s somatosensory cortex was prolonged by the application of these proteins. This allowed the cells to fire according the the digital stimulation pulse. The system could be used with peripheral nerves and other rapidly-spiking neuron types, according to their findings. The authors stated in an abstract that their work was a first step towards the development and application of large-area electronic skins with neural integrated touch feedback to replace limbs. Citation 1: A skin-inspired digital mechanoreceptor, by B.C.K. Tee; A. Chortos; A. Berndt; A.K. Nguyen; A. Tom; A. McGuire; Z.C. Lin; K. Tien, W.-G. Bae H. Wang; H.H. Chou; B. Cui K. Deisseroth and Z. Bao at Stanford University. Stanford, CA. P. Mei. T.N. Ng, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center Palo Alto CA. Science. 16 October 2015. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa9306. Citation 2: “Restoring touch sensation,” P. Anikeeva, R.A. Koppes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, R.A. Koppes, Northeastern University, Boston, MA. Science. 16 Oct 2015. DOI: 10. 1126/science.aad0910.


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