NUS Scientists Develop Electronic Skin with Exceptional Sense of Touch for Prosthetics

NUS Electronic skin
Image credit: NUS News

Scientists have been working hard to improve prosthetic technology where artificial skin will have the ability to feel like a human skin. Many of the currently available electronic skins have complex wiring that’s needed for the sensors to work. Scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have now developed electronic skin with ultra-high responsiveness and robustness.

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Dubbed Asynchronous Coded Electronic Skin (ACES), this new skin can be paired with any kind of sensor skin layers to function effectively as an electronic skin. The skin is also more responsive than anything similar developed in the past.

This innovation was achieved by Assistant Professor Benjamin Tee and his team from NUS Materials Science and Engineering, reports NUS News.

“Humans use our sense of touch to accomplish almost every daily task, such as picking up a cup of coffee or making a handshake. Without it, we will even lose our sense of balance when walking. Similarly, robots need to have a sense of touch in order to interact better with humans, but robots today still cannot feel objects very well,” explained Asst Prof Tee, who has been working on electronic skin technologies for over a decade in hopes of giving robots and prosthetic devices a better sense of touch.

A team of scientists
Asst Prof Benjamin Tee (far left) and his team at the NUS (Image credit: NUS News)

The researchers drew inspiration from the human sensory nervous system. They spent a year and a half developing a sensor system that could potentially perform better. While the ACES electronic nervous system detects signals like the human sensor nervous system, unlike the nerve bundles in the human skin, it is made up of a network of sensors connected via a single electrical conductor. It is also unlike existing electronic skins which have interlinked wiring systems that can make them sensitive to damage and difficult to scale up.

ACES can detect touches more than 1,000 times faster than the human sensory nervous system. For example, it is capable of differentiating physical contact between different sensors in less than 60 nanoseconds — the fastest ever achieved for an electronic skin technology — even with large numbers of sensors, the NUS report stated.

The ACES platform can also be designed to achieve high robustness to physical damage, an important property for electronic skins because they come into the frequent physical contact with the environment.

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This type of electronic skin can be used to develop more realistic prosthetic limbs that will help disabled individuals restore their sense of touch, according to NUS. Other potential applications include developing more intelligent robots that can perform disaster recovery tasks or take over mundane operations such as packing of items in warehouses.