Scientists Create Artificial Skin That Can Detect Pressure

Shaunacy Ferro
Bao Lab
Bao Lab / Bao Lab

Scientists are one step closer to creating an artificial skin that can feel. Stanford University researchers have built a fingertip sensor that can detect pressure, according to a new study in Science. The plastic “skin” sensor can tell the difference between a hard poke and a soft touch, and can transmit this information to nerve cells. 

Skin conveys pressure through pulses of electricity. The plastic sensor is composed of two layers, one that senses pressure and one that transmits electrical signals to convey the information to the brain. When the plastic is pressed down, carbon nanotubes within its structure compress together. The more they compress together, the more electricity they conduct.

In lab tests, the sensor was able to communicate this information successfully to a set of bioengineered neurons, indicating that the technology could be compatible with the human nervous system. In theory, it could one day be used to create an artificial skin for prosthetic limbs, allowing people with missing limbs to experience some aspects of touch.

However, it will be many years before this research makes it into the mainstream. Next up, the scientists hope to engineer more sensors that can differentiate between all kinds of sensations, as study author Alex Chortos told Stat.

[h/t: Stat]