Researchers have recently developed a soft, flexible, artificial skin made of silicone and electrodes that is capable of replicating our sense of touch -- an advance that can enhance human-computer interfaces, medical rehabilitation and virtual reality (VR).
The artificial skin developed by the researchers, including those from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Switzerland, can be stretched up to four times its original length for up to a million cycles. The soft sensors and actuators present in the artificial skin allow it to take up the exact shape of a wearer's wrist, and replicates the sense of touch by processing the pressure and vibration exerted.
The artificial skin's strain sensors continuously measure deformation, and the sense of touch is adjusted in real time, making its application as realistic as possible, according to the study, published in the journal Soft Robotics.
"This is the first time we have developed an entirely soft artificial skin where both sensors and actuators are integrated," said Harshal Sonar of EPFL, the study's lead author. He added that the closed-loop control provided by the soft skin helps it accurately and reliably modulate the vibratory stimulation felt by the user.
"This is ideal for wearable applications, such as for testing a patient's proprioception in medical applications," Sonar said. The newly developed skin contains pressure sensitive actuators that form a membrane layer which can be inflated by pumping air into it, the study noted.
The actuators, the researchers said, can be tuned to varying pressures and frequencies. The artificial skin vibrates when the membrane layer is inflated and deflated rapidly, the study noted.
According to the researchers, the sensor layer present on top of the membrane contains soft electrodes which measure the skin's deformation continuously and sends the data to a microcontroller.
The data from the electrodes is used by the microcontroller to fine-tune the sensation transmitted to wearers based on their movements and changes in external factors, the researchers stated.