Scientists develop solar-powered 'e-skin' to help amputees regain sense of touch

25 March 2017

Scientists have developed a solar-powered 'electronic skin' covering for prosthetic hands that could help amputees regain their sense of touch.

Researchers from University of Glasgow in the UK had for the first time integrated power-generating photovoltaic cells into the electronic skin made of graphene.

Though graphene is only a single atom thick, it is stronger than steel, electrically conductive and transparent.

Graphene's optical transparency, which allows around 98 per cent of light that struck its surface to pass directly through it, making it ideal for gathering energy from the sun to generate power.

"Human skin is an incredibly complex system capable of detecting pressure, temperature and texture through an array of neural sensors which carry signals from the skin to the brain," said Ravinder Dahiya, from the University of Glasgow, PTI reported.

"My colleagues and I have already made significant steps in creating prosthetic prototypes which integrate synthetic skin and are capable of making very sensitive pressure measurements," he said.

"Those measurements mean the prosthetic hand is capable of performing challenging tasks like properly gripping soft materials, which other prosthetics can struggle with," he added.

"Skin capable of touch sensitivity also opens the possibility of creating robots capable of making better decisions about human safety," Dahiya said.

''If an entity is going out in a sunny day, then they won't need any battery'' to activate their senses, said Dahiya. ''They can feel, without worrying about battery.''

The technology involves installing a thin layer of pure carbon around a prosthetic arm, hand or leg, which allowed light to pass through it and be easily used as solar energy, according to the researchers paper.

According to Dahiya, the sun could provide up to 15 times more energy than was usually needed to power a prosthetic limb.

This extra and renewable energy could be used to power sensors that increased sense and feeling in a limb, so much so that the prosthetic could feel pressure, temperature and texture like natural skin, the paper said.

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