The engineers previously developed an electronic skin made of graphene that covered prosthetic hands. They’re now using the unique properties of graphene to power new artificial skin.
Graphene is a single-atom thick material that is stronger than steel. It is electrically conductive and has an optical transparency that allows 98% of light to pass through. Its transparency is what allows it to gather energy from the sun.
Ravinder Dahiya, head of the Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group and part of the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering, joined his colleagues to use the photovoltaic cells in the electric skin to generate power for the first time.
“My colleagues and I have already made significant steps in creating prosthetic prototypes which integrate synthetic skin and are capable of making very sensitive pressure measurements. Those measurements mean the prosthetic hand is capable of performing challenging tasks like properly gripping soft materials, which other prosthetics can struggle with,” said Dahiya in a news release.
The skin only needs 20 nanowatts of power per square centimeter. However, the energy created by the skin cannot be stored, so the team is looking for ways to put that energy into batteries so the energy can be used when it is needed.
Human skin can detect pressure, temperature and texture through neural sensors, according to Dahiya. The neural sensors carry that information to the brain.
“The other next step for us is to further develop the power-generation technology which underpins this research and use it to power the motors which drive the prosthetic hand itself. This could allow the creation of an entirely energy-autonomous prosthetic limb,” said Dahiya. “We’ve already made some encouraging progress in this direction, and we’re looking forward to presenting those results soon. We are also exploring the possibility of building on these exciting results to develop wearable systems for affordable healthcare.”
The research was published in the Advanced Functional Materials journal and was funded by the U.K.’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
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