Madhu Bhaskaran, a professor of engineering at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia and the lead researcher on the project, says the artificial leather is made of silicone rubber, has a texture that mimics real leather, and is “similar to leather in its mechanical properties.”
It could lead to pioneering innovations in the field of prosthetics and robotics.
And just like real leather, the synthetic version is designed to react when pressure, heat or cold exceeds the pain threshold, and its outer layers consist of electronic circuits equipped with sensors that respond to pain stimuli.
Bhaskaran explains that human skin is designed to send electrical signals to the central nervous system, explaining that the electronic circuits in the synthetic version operate in a similar fashion, and at the same speed.
When we touch something burning, our skin’s pain receptors send an electrical signal through the nerves to the brain. The brain sends its own electrical signal to initiate a response, for example a reaction to move the affected limb of the body away from the source of heat.
In much the same way, when a sensor in the artificial skin detects a pain trigger, it sends an electrical signal to mimic parts of the brain in the skeleton, Bhaskaran said. These parts can be programmed to trigger the action of movement.
Bhaskaran points out that the important thing here is the pain point, explaining that although we feel stimuli constantly, we only react at a certain point, “like touching something very hot.”
She explains that the brain and skin compare stimuli and determine which are dangerous. And when developing artificial skin, scientists set those limits for electronics that simulate the brain.
The result is synthetic leather that can differentiate the gentle touch of a pin or a painful stab.
Artificial skin could help develop smart prostheses covered with functional skin that reacts to pain like a human limb, allowing the wearer to know if he is touching something that could damage it.
“We have come a long way with prosthetics, but the focus has been largely on the locomotor procedures that the prosthesis can perform,” Bhaskaran says.
Because traditional prostheses do not contain skin, they do not sense external hazards, so having a layer that mimics the skin will make them more realistic, Bhaskaran said.
Bhaskaran believes that artificial skin has potential for use in skin grafts. It can also be used to make smart surgical gloves, to provide the feeling usually lost with protective gloves.
As for the applications that can be looked forward to, they are robots, as the artificial skin sensing pain not only provides realistic functions, but also gives a potential humanoid robot with the ability to sense pain, which is an interesting step not only from a technological point of view, but also from a philosophical point of view. .