Chinese scientists have developed the world’s first “electronic skin”

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Chinese scientists have developed the world's first “electronic skin

Scientists from Tsinghua University in China have made a breakthrough in artificial skin technology by developing the world’s first “electronic skin” with a bionic three-dimensional architecture. This innovation aims to mimic the remarkable capabilities of human skin in perceiving touch.

The design mimics the spatial distribution of mechanoreceptors found in human skin… Human skin is covered with a dense network of specialized cells called mechanoreceptors. These receptors are arranged in three dimensions, allowing us to distinguish between different sensations such as pressure, shear (friction) and stretch with exceptional accuracy. Current electronic skin technologies are not able to reproduce this nuanced and simultaneous perception on a physical level.

Inspired by the brilliance of nature, Professor Zhang Yihui’s research team at Tsinghua University has developed a new electronic skin design that incorporates three-dimensional architecture. This design mimics the spatial distribution of mechanoreceptors found in human skin, such as Merkel cells and Ruffini bodies. The result is a device that can independently measure pressure, friction, and strain on a physical level-a significant leap forward in artificial touch technology.

This bionic electronic skin is carefully crafted from three different layers that reflect the structure of human skin:

  • Epidermis: The outer layer that resembles the surface texture of human skin.
  • Dermis: The middle layer where most sensors and circuitry are located. This layer has a unique eight-armed cage structure that houses the force measurement unit. This highly sensitive unit, located close to the surface, effectively detects external forces.
  • Subcutaneous tissue: The bottom layer that replicates the texture of the subcutaneous tissue of human skin.

By combining this three-dimensional electronic skin with advanced deep machine learning algorithms, the research team has achieved remarkable success. Their creation can not only perceive touch, but also analyze the elastic modulus (stiffness) and local fundamental curvature (shape) of an object through simple contact.

This groundbreaking research, titled “Three-dimensionally engineered electronic skin that mimics human mechanosensing,” was published in the prestigious scientific journal Science on May 30, 2024. The development has enormous potential for a variety of applications, including prosthetics that provide a more natural sense of touch for people with amputated limbs and robots with enhanced tactile capabilities.

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