Being touted as quite possibly “the future of healthcare,” University of Tokyo scientist Takao Someya has invented a bionic skin – or ‘e-skin’, with vast possibilities.
The idea came to Someya when the product development field was being rushed to explore concepts conducive to an increasingly digital world. While his competitors were dabbling in electronic paper, Someya took a more visionary approach, one rooted in artificial intelligence.
Someya knew that wiring two million sensors, roughly the number of pain receptors in the 20 ft of human skin of an average adult, into a circuit driver would kill the flexibility of any e-skin, so he began swapping rigid electronic materials -- such as silicon -- with flexible, organic materials.
According to CNN, Someya opted to connect sensors, with the ability to detect pressure and temperature, with organic semi-conductors that were naturally soft and biocompatible -- the ideal material for e-skin.
He then laid these materials on the type of grid system traditionally used in LCD displays, enabling each sensor to have an address it could be located at on the grid. Using rugged and cheap plastic films, the product could roll around a robot's narrow metal fingers without breaking.
In 2014, the team laid an e-skin over the heart of a rat for three hours during surgery. By taking an electrocardiograph, the smart skin was able to detect the position of a heart defect in the rat.
Going one step further, implantable or wearable e-skins – either tattooed to our bodies or sewn into our clothes -- could be used to monitor our vital signs and even help medics predict future heart attacks. Secondly, doctors wearing e-skin gloves might be able to detect tiny tumors inside the body that actual skin can’t even feel, which could have huge implications as to how soon cancer can be identified and treated.