Scientists have taken a step closer to developing prosthetics that let wearers feel the world around them – by creating artificial skin embedded with sensors.
A team from the US and Korea has created a durable, soft membrane that can sense pressure, temperature and humidity. The membrane is sensitive enough to detect the impact of a ball, the warmth of human skin or the feeling of rain. Heaters embedded in the skin emulate body warmth, making for a more human touch.
Advances in prosthetic technology have been gathering pace – bionic hands have already enabled amputees to perform dextrous tasks such as tying shoelaces, while bionic legs have let people walk, run and even dance again. Limbs directly controllable by signals from the brain are in the early stages of development.
This new development, published in scientific journal Nature Communications, contributes to a major remaining challenge – sending feedback from the environment through the prosthetic and back into the nervous system.
The new skin has been shown to sense the environment to an accurate degree. The next step will be to decode these digital signals into ones that the nervous system can interpret and understand.
Once interfacing with digital signals improves, the body might communicate with other types of sensors – to feel colours or magnetism, for example. See Next: Designing Life, part of our Balanced Values Macro Trend, for more far-future insights.