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Scientists Have Developed Psychosensory Electronic Skin Technology

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A group of scientists led by Professor Jae Eun Jang in the Department of Information and Communication Engineering at DGIST (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology) have developed a new type of psychosensory electronic skin technology. It is able to detect “prick” and “hot” pain sensations like humans. This research could be used in the development of humanoid robots, and it can greatly improve the field of prosthetics, especially for patients using prosthetic hands. 

These developments follow a trend of humans trying to recreate the five senses on certain platforms. This has helped lead to the development of devices such as cameras and TVs that had a huge impact on society. Now, scientists are still looking to imitate tactile, olfactory, and palate senses. The next mimetic technology will likely be tactile sensing, and the current tactile researchers are focusing on physical mimetic technologies. These can measure the pressure used for a robot to grab an object. In psychosensory tactile research, the type conducted by the team, researchers focus on how to mimic human tactile feeling such as soft, smooth, or rough. Psychosensory tactile research is still in its infancy, but big developments are being made.

The tactile sensor that was developed by Professor Jae Eun Jang and the team can detect pain and temperature similar to a human. The research was conducted together with Professor Cheil Moon’s team in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, Professor Ji-woong Choi’s team in the Department of Information and Communication Engineering, and Professor Hongsoo Choi’s team in the Department of Robotics Engineering. 

These teams were able to develop the technology to have a more simplified sensor structure, and it can measure pressure and temperature at the same time. It is able to be used on a variety of different tactile systems no matter the measurement principle of the sensor. 

The teams of researchers heavily focused on zinc oxide nano-wire (ZnO Nano-wire) technology. That technology was applied as a self-power tactile sensor. Because it utilizes piezoelectric, it does not require a battery to work. That is because the piezoelectric effect generates electrical signals by detecting pressure. 

The team also used a temperature sensor that was applied at the same time so that one sensor could do two different tasks. The team arranged electrodes on polyimide flexible substrate, and then they grew the ZnO nano-wire. They then were able to measure the piezoelectric effect by pressure, and measure the temperature change simultaneously. The researchers were also able to develop a signal processing technique that uses the pressure level, stimulated area, and temperature to determine and judge the generation of pain signals. 

Professor Jang in the Department of Information and Communication Engineering spoke about the new technology. 

“We have developed a core base technology that can effectively detect pain, which is necessary for developing future-type tactile sensor. As an achievement of convergence research by experts in nano engineering, electronic engineering, robotics engineering, and brain sciences, it will be widely applied on electronic skin that feels various senses as well as new human-machine interactions. If robots can also feel pain, our research will expand further into technology to control robots’ aggressive tendency, which is one of the risk factors of AI development.” 

While this technology is still in the beginning stages of development, it will be able to be used in future AI and humanoid development. It holds the possibilities of greatly improving current technology in the areas of prosthetics and electronic skin. That technology is getting closer and closer to being very similar to the human parts they try to model.