Scientists Develop Wearable Electric Skin

Joel Eisenberg

Applications for the non-Bluetooth accessory include humans to accurately check vitals, and robots to wear the skin as gloves to perform delicate surgeries.

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Electric SkinUlsan National Institute; media-purposed

Author’s Note

This article is based on accredited medical, science, and media reports. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I will share knowledge but will offer no personal opinion on this matter herein.

All listed theories and facts shared within this article are fully-attributed to said outlets, including Wikipedia.org, ScienceDaily.com, Graz University of Technology, National Library of Medicine, IAS Technical University of Munich, and Inverse.com.

Introduction

Once again, it appears, science fiction is becoming science fact.

In the early 2000s, news of a new ”electric skin” with a host of potential applications was widely covered by the news media. According to an archived June, 2004 paper published by the National Library of Medicine, the nascent days of the technology were already showing promise.

As excerpted from the paper: It is now widely accepted that skin sensitivity will be very important for future robots used by humans in daily life for housekeeping and entertainment purposes. Despite this fact, relatively little progress has been made in the field of pressure recognition compared to the areas of sight and voice recognition, mainly because good artificial "electronic skin" with a large area and mechanical flexibility is not yet available. The fabrication of a sensitive skin consisting of thousands of pressure sensors would require a flexible switching matrix that cannot be realized with present silicon-based electronics. Organic field-effect transistors can substitute for such conventional electronics because organic circuits are inherently flexible and potentially ultralow in cost even for a large area.

20 years later, the science — as pioneered in part by Takao Someya, Professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Tokyo, Japan — has come a long way.

Let us explore further.

Electric Skin

A 2020 annual report from the Institute For Advanced Study, Technical University of Munich, entitled “Skin-Inspired Mechanically Flexible and Stretchable Electronic System,” speaks further of Someya’s work in the field: Focus Group on Artificial Electronic Skin, led by Takao Someya and Gordon Cheng, aimed at the development of a novel paradigm that could lead to important advances in robotics and also enhance the quality of life. The potential impact of artificial electronic skin is enormous, as it is applicable across multiple domains including building safer robots, healthcare monitoring, entertainment, and wearable technologies to enhance our way of life.

Wikipedia features a comprehensive overview of the electric skin concept: Electronic skin refers to flexible, stretchable and self-healing electronics that are able to mimic functionalities of human or animal skin. The broad class of materials often contain sensing abilities that are intended to reproduce the capabilities of human skin to respond to environmental factors such as changes in heat and pressure.

The page goes on to state a current effort to become more “green” with the endeavor, and further evolution: Advances in electronic skin research focuses on designing materials that are stretchy, robust, and flexible. Research in the individual fields of flexible electronics and tactile sensing has progressed greatly; however, electronic skin design attempts to bring together advances in many areas of materials research without sacrificing individual benefits from each field. The successful combination of flexible and stretchable mechanical properties with sensors and the ability to self-heal would open the door to many possible applications including soft robotics, prosthetics, artificial intelligence and health monitoring.

As to general advances of electronics in more recent years, the advent of “smart technology“ has also usurped the wearable skin space. According to a May, 2022 piece published by ScienceDaily.com, “Electronic Skin: Physicist Develops Multisensory Hybrid Material,” the three-in-one hybrid material is intended for the “next generation” of smart, artificial skin.

From the article, sourcing the Graz University of Technology: Recently developed 'smart skin' is very similar to human skin. It senses pressure, humidity and temperature simultaneously and produces electronic signals. More sensitive robots or more intelligent prostheses are thus conceivable.

Finally, Inverse.com published this morning “Scientists Want to Give You a Bionic Skin to Save Your Life,” which also discusses possible applications in gaming and cooking, as secondary benefits to the medical side: A team of engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a pliable electronic “skin” capable of collecting data on a wide range of health indicators, including heart rate, stress hormones, and the sodium ion concentrations in sweat. The sensor is super flexible and about as thick as a piece of scotch tape. Best of all, it can monitor all those metrics chip-free.

Conclusion

Though at times it may appear there is no end to the potential of technology, scientists developing electric skin advances have widely expressed to be doing so primarily for medical and scientific benefit.

Any further updates will be shared here, on NewsBreak.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

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