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Researches Develop Electronic Skin Capable of Sensing Touch and Pain

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University create an electronic skin that enables a sense of touch and pain through prosthetic fingertips.

Amputees often sense the presence of a missing body part. Such feeling is often called phantom limb sensation. This sensory illusion is on the brink of being applied in real- world applications as a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins University, developed an electronic skin that can be covered on top of a prosthetic hand, which can bring back the sensory feeling of touch through the fingertips. The electronic skin called as e-dermis, is composed of a fabric and rubber laced with sensors to replicate nerve endings. The skin senses stimuli and relays the impulses back to the peripheral nerves to recreate a feel of touch and pain. Although pain is unpleasant, it is an essential protective sense of touch. E-dermis helps in conveying the stimulus information by electrically stimulating the amputee’s nerves in a non-invasive way. The research inspired by the complex network of receptors of the human skin that relay a variety of sensations to the brain was published in the journal Science Robotics on June 21, 2018.

The electronic skin is capable of sensing and relaying variety of continuous spectrum of tactile perceptions such as a light touch or noxious or painful stimulus. A Neuromorphic model devised by the team replicates the touch and pain receptors of the human nervous system, enabling the e-dermis to electronically encode skin sensations. The e- dermis was tested with amputees with its output connected via transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Several pain detection tasks revealed that the subjects were able to experience a natural and reflexive reaction to both normal and pain induced surfaces. The findings were proved by analyzing the brain reactions of the test subjects through electroencephalography (EEG). The e-dermis technology can also be applicable in robotic systems, astronaut gloves and space suits.