A variety of medical conditions, including diabetic neuropathy, infections, and injuries, can lead to a reduced ability to feel touch with one’s skin. This can be frustrating and uncomfortable, but it can also result in an inability to walk in comfort, notice wounds and injuries, and deal with everyday tasks.
Now researchers in China are reporting in journal Applied Physics Reviews on a technology that significantly boosts a person’s ability to feel with the finger tips. Things like touches by a flower petal, tiny drops of water falling on the finger, as well as contact by a metal wire that’s too thin to be visible, were felt by volunteers using the technology.
The research team got inspiration from how spiders feel very slight movements, which they do thanks to cracks in their exoskeletons. The new device has similar tiny cracks within a layer of silver that is the core of the sensing mechanism. As the silver is slightly flexed, the cracks change the overall conductivity of the metal, which can be detected in real-time and converted to a stronger sensation. By wearing this technology on the fingers, it gives healthy people the ability to feel heartbeats by just touching someone’s body.
While such technology may be useful to improve the sensitivity of people suffering from loss of sensation, it may also be applicable as a way to improve how doctors feel things through surgical gloves.
Study in Applied Physics Reviews: Visually aided tactile enhancement system based on ultrathin highly sensitive crack-based strain sensors