Following on from the development of prostheses capable of experiencing humidity, heat and pressure as well as discerning the consistency and shape of objects and handling them, a team of scientists has developed “experimental artificial skin with a sense of touch”.
This membrane “reproduces human sensations” and could, in future “be integrated in prostheses to restore these sensations in the case of missing limbs”. It is also said to “minimise or even eliminate the sensation of phantom limbs, which affects approximately 80% of amputees”.
The team comprises seventeen scientists whose work was published in the Science Journal on 15 October. To develop this artificial skin, they “used optogenetics – a science combining genetics and optics”. The mechanical force of an object on the skin is converted into electrical signals of different intensity, which, in turn, are transmitted to the neurones via sensors where they “trigger a sensation of varying pressure”.
The applications generated by this discovery “are not that futuristic,” explain the study authors although “reproducing skin functions constitutes a difficult feat of engineering”. In fact, the scientists are hoping to “recreate other aspects: sensation of hot and cold, soft or rough textures and pain, etc.” For the time being, this is viewed as a “promising” scientific success to be treated “with caution”.
Sciences et avenir (16/10/2015)