Electronic Body Hair May Provide Tactile Sensation to Prostheses

The multifunctional tactile sensor is inspired by human hairy skin structure. Photograph courtesy of ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Electronic-skin prototypes are stretchy, thin films that can sense temperature and pressure, and monitor blood oxygen or alcohol levels. But fine hair, which covers 95 percent of the human body and helps us feel the slightest wind, is missing from most artificial skin. To capture the sensation that hair provides, earlier research had developed sensors separate from the skin. Researchers from China's Harbin Institute of Technology expanded on this by combining the features of electronic skin and hair-like wires in a single device to make a more versatile tactile sensor for robots, prosthetic devices, and other applications. Their report appears in the December 14 edition of ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

The researchers created an array of artificial hairs with glass-coated, cobalt-based microwires and embedded the ends of the wires in a silicon-rubber skin. The "hairy skin" could repeatedly detect a range of pressures, including the landing of a fly, a light wind and a ten-pound weight. And when used with a two-finger robot gripping a plastic block, the new sensor could "feel" slip and friction forces.

To see how the sensor works, watch this video from the American Chemical Society.

Editor's note: This story was adapted from materials provided by the American Chemical Society.