The unique way in which our fingertips can detect changes in both temperature and pressure have been reproduced in an electronic ‘skin’.
In tests, the grooves in the e-skin were able to respond to water droplets running across them and could detect when a human hair was placed on their surface.
The breakthrough could be used to make more life-like prostheses or improve the accuracy of wearable sensors and medical diagnostic devices.
The electronic skin was developed by researchers at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, led by Professor Jonghwa Park.
Human skin contains unique epidermal and dermal microstructures and sensory receptors.
The microridges on the fingertip are especially designed to fine-tune perception of surface texture and transfer sensory information to the brain.
Existing electronic skin technology lets robots and robotic prostheses grasp and manipulate objects, discern the surface texture and hardness, and feel the warmth of objects.
However, electronic skins that can simultaneously detect both heat and different types of pressure with a level of high sensitivity have been a difficult to develop, until now.
Professor Park and his colleagues have designed ferroelectric films that mimic the grooved, microscopically ‘mountainous’ structure of human fingertip skin.
By adding composites made of a polymer and reduced graphene oxide, the films are able to detect touch and temperature using sensing electric charges.