Stanford researchers have developed a flexible highly sensitive sensor that one day could be manufactured in large sheets and used as artificial "skin" for prosthetic limbs. The sensor is sensitive enough to feel a fly's touch. According to a Stanford release:
By sandwiching a precisely molded, highly elastic rubber layer between two parallel electrodes, the team created an electronic sensor that can detect the slightest touch.
"It detects pressures well below the pressure exerted by a 20 milligram bluebottle fly carcass we experimented with, and does so with unprecedented speed," said Zhenan Bao, an associate professor of chemical engineering who led the research.
Here's how the sensor works:
The thin rubber film between the two electrodes stores electrical charges, much like a battery. When pressure is exerted on the sensor, the rubber film compresses, which changes the amount of electrical charges the film can store. That change is detected by the electrodes and is what enables the sensor to transmit what it is "feeling."
And its potential for medical applications:
That degree of sensitivity could make the sensors useful in a broad range of medical applications, including robotic surgery, Bao said. In addition, using bandages equipped with the sensors could aid in healing of wounds and incisions. Doctors could use data from the sensors to be sure the bandages were not too tight.
Bao is the senior author of a paper (registration required) published Sept. 12 in Nature Materials. The project was partially funded by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.