Artificial skin could aid in rehabilitation and VR

Scientists from the EPFL Reconfigurable Robotics Lab and the Laboratory for Soft Bioelectronic Interfaces have teamed up to develop a new soft, flexible artificial skin that is made of silicon and electrodes. The artificial skin has a system of soft sensors and actuators that enable the material to conform to the exact shape of the wearer's wrist, as an example, and then provide haptic feedback in the form of pressure and vibration.

The haptic feedback provided can be adjusted in real-time to produce a sense of touch that the team says is as realistic as possible. The team says that this product marks the first time that they have developed an entirely soft, artificial skin with soft sensors and actuators integrated. The integration of both sensors and actuators gives the team closed-loop control so they can actuate and reliably modulate the vibration stimulation felt by the user.

The researcher says that this system is ideal for wearable applications, such as testing for a patient's proprioception in medical applications. The artificial skin has soft pneumatic actuators that form a membrane layer that can be inflated by pumping air into it. The team can tune the actuators to varying pressures and frequencies of up to 100Hz or 100 impulses per second.

The skin of the wearer vibrates when the membrane layer is inflated and deflated rapidly. The sensor layer sits on top of the membrane layer and has soft electrodes made of a liquid-solid gallium mixture. The electrodes measure the skin deformation continuously and send the data to a microcontroller that uses the feedback to fine-tune the sensation transmitted to the wearer in response to movement and changes in external factors.

The artificial skin can be stretched up to four times its original length for up to a million cycles. This makes it attractive for real-world applications. For now, the team is testing the artificial skin on the fingers and is making improvements to the tech. The next step is a fully wearable prototype.