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This Graphene-Powered Electronic Skin Could Give Future Prosthetic Limbs The Sense Of Touch

23 March 2017, 9:46 am EDT By Livia Rusu Tech Times
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The Cambridge grads making life-changing prosthesis ready for the NHS
Researchers have created a prototype of a graphene-powered electronic prosthetic limb. The new technology would mimic the sense of touch, while also running on solar energy.  ( Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) Group/The University of Glasgow )

Amputees who wear prosthetic limbs could soon have a much better alternative, which will give them a sense of touch, as well as temperature and texture. The new technology is a solar-energy powered prosthetic limb, which will entirely replace batteries.

The research responsible for this new technology was published, March 22, in the peer-reviewed journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Skin Powered By The Sun In New Prosthetic Limb

Generally, prosthetics are powered by batteries, but a new prototype created by researchers from the University of Glasgow created the possibility of "solar-powered skin," which would also come with sensory enhancements compared to the existing technology.

"If an entity is going out in a sunny day, then they won't need any battery. They can feel, without worrying about battery," noted Ravinder Dahiya, research fellow at the university and lead author of the research.

As the new technology is capable of producing its own energy from natural sources, this type of electronic skin could last longer than similar products currently available on the market. A battery-based prosthetic limb would also come with limited portability, which is another advantage of the solution proposed by the British researchers.

As part of the study, the engineers attached a layer of power-generating photovoltaic cells on the back of the sensor-laden prosthetic limb. They used graphene in creating the sensors, which is a material with higher strength than steel, and is transparent and electrically conductive.

The transparency of the touch-sensitive layer is believed to be a main feature allowing the technology to be fully functional because it allows the sunlight to get to the sensors and effectively replace batteries, according to the team of researchers.

"Transparency of the touch sensitive layer is considered a key feature to allow the photovoltaic cell to effectively harvest light. Moreover, ultralow power consumed by the sensitive layer further reduces the photovoltaic area required to drive the tactile skin," noted the research.

At the same time, the new prosthetic limb produces responses to sensors for both dynamic and static stimuli, which are evaluated by performing different tasks, from grabbing soft objects to simple touching, allowing the entity wearing it to feel more accurately.

The new technology could also improve the functionality of robots, which would now have the capacity to better understand the external environment they interact with, according to the researchers. Provided that robots would have touch-sensitive limbs that react to pressure, they would act in a more coordinated manner, being much less likely to injure humans in their interactions.

The team of researchers now wishes to further develop the prototype in the following two years. A further step would be managing to power the entire motors of the prosthetic limbs with renewable energy, and not just the skin.

Prosthetic Research Puts Fun In Functional

Previous scientific innovative prosthetic limb was created by researchers at Pat Starace Research & Development. They created a fully functional prototype of a prosthetic hand, in the form of a 3D-printed glove stylized after Iron Man's.

The researchers aimed to make kids who lost their arms feel like superheroes, understanding how emotionally devastating such an event can be for a child.

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