Barely a week goes by in the technology world without some kind of new “smart” invention being created.
Now, we’re all familiar with smart phones, smart meters, smart cards, and smart cars… but what about smart skin?
Yes… you read that right.
In South Korea, Seoul National University has created the world’s first synthetic skin that mimics the sense of touch of human skin.
Professor Kim Dae-Hyeong at the School of Chemical and Biological Engineering is the man leading the innovation: “We developed the synthetic skin, which has the sense of feeling that exactly copies human skin. The skin can feel pressure, temperature, strain, humidity. Also, it’s soft, just like human skin, and embedded with heating elements that can make itself warm.”
The unique aspect of the skin that enables it to have this sense of touch is the fact that it’s constructed of layers.
Kim explains, “The bottom layer of skin is a rubbery material that can express the softness of human skin. Above the rubber layer, there is ultra-thin polyimide and then silicon, which acts as sensors.”
There’s no doubt that this sense of touch is a major breakthrough, but to be a truly useful innovation, it ultimately needs to send signals to the brain and respond to real-time commands. And the scientists are making progress there, too…
A “Second Skin” for Humans and Robots
So far, the university researchers have managed to fix their synthetic skin onto a prosthetic hand, where it’s been able to shake hands, use a keyboard, and hold a ball.
And the fact that it can sense humidity means it can tell the difference between a wet diaper and a dry one.
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In terms of communicating that touch to the brain, the scientists have managed to prove it in small animals so far, but clearly, the next step is translating that to the human brain – namely, as a go-between with humans and robots.
As Kim says, “I hope a robotic limb with this synthetic skin can be used by disabled people. And for industrial uses, it can be applied to various types of robots, like a humanoid robot.”
Given the range of touch that the skin can feel (temperature, pressure, humidity, etc.), it would seem that this “second skin” between human and robot would be perfect for both individuals and in manufacturing.
If so, it would add another breakthrough and more validation to an already rapidly growing robotics industry.
This is one tech trend that we remain extremely bullish on for the coming years. In fact, we dedicated our inaugural issue of Digital Fortunes to it last month, where we profiled the applications for robotics and automation… industry growth forecasts… and the best way to play the trend right now. To get more details on Digital Fortunes, just get in touch with our team at: 877-242-1730 or 443-353-4501 (toll free).