Artificial Sensory Neurons For Prosthetics, Robots
An artificial sensory nerve system created by researchers at Stanford University and Seoul National University gives hope for artificial skin for prosthetic limbs, restoring sensation to amputees, and giving robots human-like reflexes. Their rudimentary artificial nerve circuit integrates three previously developed components: a touch-pressure sensor, a flexible electronic neuron, and an artificial synaptic transistor modeled on human synapses.
(A bioinspired flexible organic artificial afferent nerve)
The researchers plan next to create artificial skin coverings for prosthetic devices, which will require new devices to detect heat and other sensations, the ability to embed them into flexible circuits, and then a way to interface all of this to the brain. They also hope to create low-power, artificial sensor nets to cover robots. The idea is to make them more agile by providing some of the same feedback that humans derive from their skin.
“We take skin for granted but it’s a complex sensing, signaling and decision-making system,” said Zhenan Bao, Ph.D., a Stanford professor of chemical engineering and one of the senior authors. “This artificial sensory nerve system is a step toward making skin-like sensory neural networks for all sorts of applications.”
This milestone is part of Bao’s quest to mimic how skin can stretch, repair itself, and, most remarkably, act like a smart sensory network that knows not only how to transmit pleasant sensations to the brain, but also when to order the muscles to react reflexively to make prompt decisions.
I'm pretty sure I read about the idea for this In Roger Zelazny's Hugo award-winning 1966 novel This Immortal gives sf fans a pretty accurate prediction of this idea. A realistic, soft skin wrestling robot uses special skin described as a radar mesentery to sense its opponent. This permits the robot to judge within ounces how much pressure to apply in a wrestling hold.
Its memory contained hundreds of wrestling holds and its governor theoretically prevented it from killing or maiming its opponent - all through a series of chemelectric afferent nerve-analogues, which permitted it to gauge to an ounce the amount of pressure necessary to snap a bone or tear a tendon...
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