Electronic Skin ‘E-Dermis’ Gives Those With Prosthetics The Ability To Feel Pressure, Pain

The invention of "e-dermis" is a groundbreaking development for those with prosthetics.

E-dermis to restore sense of touch.
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The invention of "e-dermis" is a groundbreaking development for those with prosthetics.

Engineers at John Hopkins University have developed what they call the “e-dermis.” It’s an electronic skin that fits over prosthetics, giving people the ability to feel sensations like pressure and pain, according to Science Daily. When used with a prosthetic, the e-dermis functions like regular skin via sensors that mimic nerve endings. These sensors then send messages back to peripheral nerves. Graduate student Luke Osborn described the practical applications of the new technology.

“This is interesting and new because now we can have a prosthetic hand that is already on the market and fit it with an e-dermis that can tell the wearer whether he or she is picking up something that is round or whether it has sharp points.”

One volunteer tester had this profound reaction to using the e-dermis.

“After many years, I felt my hand, as if a hollow shell got filled with life again.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to restore someone’s sense of pain, researchers point out that it’s helpful for users to know if they are picking up something that’s too hot or pointy. And e-dermis would be the first technology to give those with prosthetics the ability to feel pain, which is “an essential, protective sense of touch.”

And the invention isn’t just about allowing people to feel the extremes senses of touch. It also can pick up on subtle cues.

Other potential applications for the e-dermis are pretty incredible, including the addition of e-dermis to robots to make them “more human.” Researchers also think that e-dermis could be applied to NASA’s space suits.

Scientist Nitish Thakor elaborated on the invention.

“For the first time, a prosthesis can provide a range of perceptions, from fine touch to noxious to an amputee, making it more like a human hand.”

The future of e-dermis remains to be seen. For now, it’s been tested on just a handful to test volunteers. The commercial translation will be interesting to follow, including the potential cost of adding an e-dermis to prosthetics.

And if e-dermis does end up being used on robots, the implications are quite interesting. The work on robotics and AI is often centered on trying to make them look and act “more human” in an effort to make them more relatable. And while most of the developments have been centered around making robots smarter, two researchers from Sorbonne Universite, France and the University of Louisville have made an interesting point. It’s important to add “artificial stupidity” to the AI because they say that’s the only way to make them on an equal playing field as people, described the Next Web.