Innovation

Highly Sensitive Artifical Human Skin Created From Common Household Goods Could Change Robotics And Medicine

post-it notes
Post-it notes were used with other household objects to create highly sensitive artificial human skin. Photo Courtesy Flickr, Dean Hochman

Repurposing household items is great for DIY projects, but have you ever considered using these items to build a functional human body part? A new study, published in Advanced Materials Technologies, suggests we may one day be able to do this, as scientists were able to create artificial human skin with paper products.

"This is the first time a singular platform shows multi-sensory functionalities close to that of natural skin,” said Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, senior author of the paper, in a press release. These functions include simultaneously feeling pressure, temperature, humidity, pH, and air flow; to recreate such a complex organ with household products is monumental, he said.   

Other researchers have already developed artificial human skin, but with limitations. A highly sensitive artificial skin, for example, has been made with gold — an expensive material. Other researchers have made it from stem cells, or a mix of collagen and cow and shark tissues (this one can only be used on flat skin surfaces). Likewise, skins made from cheaper components and processes have also shown limited functionality. The current study, however, covers all bases.

“We show a far cheaper alternative to the widespread artificial skin systems, using paper-based sensors and ‘ridiculously’ common fabrication tools: scissors and tape,” the researchers wrote. This flexible, paper-based skin was created from Post-it notes, paper, aluminum foil, lint-free wipes, and pencil lines — materials almost anyone, anywhere, could find.

Hussain and his colleagues are not the first to use paper as a sensing material. In other studies, paper has been used to build flexible actuators, ammonia gas sensors, multi-color LED displays, and 3D antennas. Paper’s highly porous structure and large “interfacial area” (space for making contact with stimuli) allows it to be sensitive for faster responses.

The artificial skin developed by Hussein’s team, with its wide-ranging functionality, could allow for more intuitive and accessible human-computer interactions, the researchers wrote. They suggested that one day, it might be useful in households and health care settings, where it can be used to examine food and atmospheric quality, as well as detect illnesses.

Giving the public the ability to create electronics will be key to their future innovation, Hussain said. “In that regard, a skin-type sensory platform made with recyclable materials only demonstrates the power of human imagination.”

Source: Nassar JM, et al. Paper Skin Multisensory Platform for Simultaneous Environmental Monitoring. Advanced Materials Technologies. 2016.

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