With a world filled with synthetic material and medical devices skin is now in the process of being engineered and medical uses coming soon. With technological advances seeming to arise everyday, one may think that engineering e-skin would be an easy task, it however is not. Skin covers the entire body, which includes joints and bones. These areas require material to be flexible, while still being durable and thin. Combine with these necessities that the product will need to keep its conductive properties in order to give the wearer sensation and the requests required of scientist in formulating electronic skin is a pretty large order.
Many electronics and robotic devices are heavy and rigid in their make up. Thinking of advances in things such as cell phones and iPods, the devices are getting faster in use and smaller in stature. These devices, and others like them such as lap tops, are getting more efficient in many aspects but all have one thing in common; they are rigid and hard materials. The phrase ‘tough skin’ is not meant to be literal, and rigid components do not make well for engineering a covering for the human body. Scientists have taken these facts into consideration, and recent developments are taking big steps closer to a working product.
Takao Someya is one of the leading researchers and developers in the field of engineering skin. Takao and her team at University of Tokyo have created an electronic mesh that is made out of organic thin-film transistors, or TFTs as they refer to them. Their product is able to be wrapped and conformed to a mechanical hand. It can also be made of many thin layers of various semiconductor materials, such as amorphous silicon or low-temperature polycrystalline silicon just to name a few. The TFTs are lightweight and durable. They are also cost efficient, something that is very important when thinking of using it for real world implications down the road. Low cost is good for consumers, like medical patients. Takao and the University of Tokyo are not the only pioneers in the skin engineering field. Standford is now developing a synthetic skin, and products from both universities will hopefully be coming soon to households around the world.
Standford Universities prototype is a stretchy and pressure sensitive device. While sensitive to pressure, the device remains durable. It bends and contorts without breaking or wrinkling. It is made from carbon nanotubes which allow for measurement of pressure applied between the parts. The device is said to be capable of measuring the pressure applied by the pinch of human fingers, while still being able to withstand the pressure exerted by the weight of an elephant. The prototype is transparent in appearance and holds its conductivity when being stretched and manipulated. The Standford version looks more like a clear putty, while the University of Tokyo resembles a super thin computer chip.
No matter where in the world the technology is coming from, or who is the researcher with the newest development in the field, the importance in the field of bionic skin is the outcome. With burn patients, traumas and persons wearing prosthetics in mind there are a plethora of people who will benefit from this skin. Giving sensation back to people who never thought they would feel again. Not only covering and protecting the underlying tissue and organs, but replicating the millions of receptors on human skin to provide the feeling of touch. Scientists have their work cut out for them, but the results of their success will be so tremendous that they will be hard to measure. Synthetic skin is far too important to not have around now and we are lucky to live in a world where its public uses will hopefully be coming soon.
By Latasha Alvaro