Solar-powered 'e-skin' may help amputees regain sense of touch

Researchers from University of Glasgow in the UK have for the first time integrated power-generating photovoltaic cells into the electronic skin made of graphene.

PTI| Last Updated: Mar 23, 2017, 17:14 PM IST

London: Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have developed a solar-powered 'electronic skin' covering for prosthetic hands that may help amputees regain their sense of touch.

Researchers from University of Glasgow in the UK have for the first time integrated power-generating photovoltaic cells into the electronic skin made of graphene.

Graphene, despite being just a single atom thick, is stronger than steel, electrically conductive and transparent.

It is graphene's optical transparency, which allows around 98 per cent of the light which strikes its surface to pass directly through it, which makes it ideal for gathering energy from the sun to generate power.

"Human skin is an incredibly complex system capable of detecting pressure, temperature and texture through an array of neural sensors which carry signals from the skin to the brain," said Ravinder Dahiya, from the University of Glasgow.

"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," he said.

"Those measurements mean the prosthetic hand is capable of performing challenging tasks like properly gripping soft materials, which other prosthetics can struggle with," he added.

"Skin capable of touch sensitivity also opens the possibility of creating robots capable of making better decisions about human safety," Dahiya said.

"A robot working on a construction line, for example, is much less likely to accidentally injure a human if it can feel that a person has unexpectedly entered their area of movement and stop before an injury can occur," he said.

The new skin requires just 20 nanowatts of power per square centimetre, which is easily met even by the poorest-quality photovoltaic cells currently available on the market.

Although currently energy generated by the skin's photovoltaic cells cannot be stored, the team are already looking into ways to divert unused energy into batteries, allowing the energy to be used as and when it is required.