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This Solar-Powered Electronic Skin Proves More Sensitive Than Actual Human Skin

Mar 24, 2017 02:15 PM EDT

If you're going to get a prosthetic, you might as well make sure it's a step up. A team of researchers from the University of Glasgow developed what's being called as "electronic skin" for prosthetic hands that turned out to be even more sensitive than real human skin.

According to a report from BBC News, the newly designed synthetic skin was made using new super-material graphene, which is known as the world's strongest material despite being one million thinner than paper. While a previous version required a battery to function, the scientists were able to put integrated photo-voltaic cells in the skin.

"The real challenge was 'how can we put skin on top of photo-voltaic and yet allow light to pass through the skin?'" Dr. Ravinder Dahiya of the University of Glasgow School of Engineering told BBC News. "That's what we have done."

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Being some of the thinnest objects on Earth, graphene's optimal transparency lets 98 percent of light hitting its surface to pass through it so power could be generated from sunlight.

Also, a special feature of this new electronic skin is its ultra-sensitivity. The team designed it this way so prosthetics could have a better sense of touch, temperature and texture.

"When the skin is placed on a prosthetic hand and the amputee then touches an object they are able to feel the contact pressure as well as temperature," Dahiya said.

This technology is not just a great step in the advancement of ultra-light energy-efficient sensitive skin for prosthetics, but also for robotics. Dahiya explained that it could improve future robots by improving their functionality and giving them a better understanding of the objects - and people - that they touch and interact with.

The group's research paper was published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

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