Solar-powered synthetic skin could assist prosthetics function

Electronic prosthetics have the potential to enable a restoration of touch sensation, say scientists.

University of GlasgowDr Ravinder Dahiya

An electronic skin powered by solar energy has been developed which could give hope to amputees and provide key tactile function for robots.

Researchers have used graphene’s optical transparency to power the technology. Graphene allows approximately 98% of the light hitting its surface to pass through it, making it ideal for gathering and generating solar power.

Dr Dahiya, from the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering, who led the research said: “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.

“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.

“We are also using innovative 3D printing strategies to build more affordable, sensitive prosthetic limbs including the formation of a very active student club called ‘Helping Hands’.

“Skin capable of touch sensitivity also opens the possibility of creating robots capable of making better decisions about human safety. 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.”

The team has now integrated power-generating photovoltaic cells into the electronic skin for the first time. The research was published recently as a paper, ‘Energy Autonomous Flexible and Transparent Tactile Skin’ in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.