There have been some amazing advancements in prosthetic limbs, from mind control to 3D printing. But none have been able to feel a sense of touch. That is until now, as a team of American and Korean researchers have developed an artificial material that stretches and senses just like real skin.
So how does it work? The polymer material, using a network of sensors made from gold and silicon, which can give the "same tactile touch that the normal hand would convey to the brain," according to researcher Roozbeh Ghaffari, can sense pressure, temperature and humidity. It also comes with a built-in heater so the user has a simulated feeling of real skin tissue. This will send sensations directly to the patent's nerves, so that they feel everything the polymer feels.
And how was the touch sensing tested? By prodding a bunch of nappies to distinguish between wet and dry. This extremely rigorous and serious test turned out to be a success, but I'd recommend washing that prosthetic hand before using again. At least they know whatever happens, they're on a first step towards nappy-changing robots. Sounds like a winner in Dragon's Den
“The prosthetic hand and laminated electronic skin could encounter many complex operations such as hand shaking, keyboard tapping, ball grasping, holding a cup of hot or cold drink, touching dry or wet surfaces and human to human contact,” they write in the paper, published in Nature Communications.
So far they've managed to give the skin enough elasticity, as to not limit user movement, but it might take time for scientists to establish the best way to connect the sensors to the human nerves.