Scientists have long dreamed of prosthetics that can feel objects they touch. Few have come closer to realizing this dream more than The University of Glasgow, thanks to newly invented “synthetic skin.”
The University of Glasgow’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group, led by Dr. Ravinder Dahiya, recently developed a new synthetic skin made out of graphene, a flexible form of graphite that, despite only being an atom thick, is stronger than steel. According to Dr. Ravinder, BEST has made great strides in creating prosthetics that use this synthetic skin,
“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.”
Furthermore, the skin may have applications in robotics, as, according to Dr. Ravinder, “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.”
One might wonder what powers the synthetic skin, and the answer is the skin itself. Sadly, the skin is not a perpetual motion device, but since graphene is transparent and electrically conductive, tiny photovoltaic cells can be built into the synthetic skin, gather sunlight, and convert it into electricity, not unlike solar panels. The skin requires 20 nanowatts of power per square centimeter, but as far as electricity needs go, that is literally chump change; even the worst photovoltaic cells are more than capable of meeting these meager requirements.
One drawback to the synthetic skin is it cannot store electricity, but Dr. Dahiya has already taken this into consideration and is currently researching ways to store unused energy in batteries. Furthermore, Dr. Dahiya plans to, as he puts it, “further develop the power-generation technology which underpins this research and use it to power the motors which drive the prosthetic hand itself.” In other words, he wants to create an “entirely energy-autonomous prosthetic limb.” Perhaps this technology could also create energy-autonomous robots as well, with luck ones that don’t try to overthrow humanity in a robot revolution.
People who are interested in learning more about Dr. Dahiya’s synthetic skin can read his team’s paper, “Energy Autonomous Flexible and Transparent Tactile Skin,” published in Advanced Functional Materials. Sadly, as of writing this article, you cannot read the paper for free online.
CES 2023 :Learn the latest information from the greatest technology event of the year
Although the CES doesn’t start until tomorrow, we’re back in Vegas for the event, and several exhibitors have already shown their new items at numerous press conferences and media events. In addition to more news from TV manufacturers, gaming laptop manufacturers, smart home firms, and other companies, we are starting to see some of the early automotive news that typically headlines CES today. Here is a summary of the top news from Day 1 of CES 2023 in case you haven’t caught up yet.
Since last night
But first, even though we covered the most of yesterday’s launches in a different video, more things were announced last night after we had finished filming that. For instance, Withings demonstrated the $500 pee-scanning U-Scan toilet computer.
It’s a 90mm block that you install inside your toilet bowl as a deodorizer and employs a microfluidic device that functions like a litmus test to identify the components in your pee. Although Withings is developing a consumer-focused version that will evaluate your nutrition and hydration levels and forecast your ovulation and period cycles, you will need to decide the precise tests you wish to run in your module. Prior to launching in the US, it is still awaiting regulatory approval from the European Union.
We also witnessed the Fufuly pulsing cushion by Yukai Engineering, which was less… gross news. Although a vibrating cushion may sound like something out of an anime, the concept is that cuddling something that might simulate real-life pulsation may have calming effects. Another thing that could calm anxiety? watching a video of adorable birds! Additionally, Bird Buddy unveiled a brand-new intelligent feeder with a built-in camera so you can watch your feathered friends while they build nests. The most recent version, which is intended for hummingbirds, uses AI to recognize the different breeds that are in the area and, in conjunction with a motion sensor, determines when they are ready for a feast.
Speaking of nibbles, there was a ton of food-related technology news last night, like as the $1,000 stand mixer from GE Profile that has a digital scale and voice controls. We also observed OneThird’s freshness scanners, which determine the freshness of produce using near-infrared lasers and secret algorithms. Even the shelf life of an avocado can be determined instantly, preventing food waste!
We also witnessed the Wisear neural earbuds that let you control playback by clenching your jaw, the blood pressure monitor that hooks onto your finger from Valencell, and Loreal’s robotic lipstick applicator for people with limited hand or arm mobility. Smart speakers, smart pressure cookers, smart VR gloves, smart lights, and more were available.
Let’s move on to the recent news. Prior to the onslaught that is set to happen tomorrow, there was only a little trickle of auto news. Volkswagen debuted the ID.7 EV sedan, tempting us with only the name and a rough body form. BMW, meanwhile, revealed the I Vision Dee, or “Digital Emotional Experience,” to provide additional information about its futuristic I Vision concept vehicle development. It’s a simplified design with a heads-up display that spans the entire front windshield. Many of the Dee’s characteristics are anticipated to be incorporated into production vehicles starting in 2025, notably BMW’s new NEUE KLASSE (new class) EV platform. BMW’s Mixed Reality slider will also be available on the Dee to regulate how much digital stuff is shown on the display.
The premium 2023 TVs from Samsung were also not unveiled until the evening, with this year’s models emphasizing on MiniLED and 8K technologies. Additionally, it added more sizes to its selection and unveiled new soundbars with Dolby Atmos capability at all price points. While this was going on, competitor LG unveiled a 97-inch M3 TV that can wirelessly receive 4K 120Hz content, allowing you to deal with fewer connections in your living room and… more soundbars. Leave it to LG and Samsung to essentially duplicate each other’s actions.
Hisense, a competitor with comparatively smaller TVs, today announced its 85-inch UX Mini LED TV, which has more than 5,000 local dimming zones and a maximum brightness of 2,500 nits. Startup Displace, meanwhile, demonstrated a brand-new 55-inch wireless OLED TV that can be attached to any surface via vacuum suction, doing away entirely with the requirement for a wall mount or stand. You can even live without a power cord thanks to its four inbuilt batteries. Essentially, this is a fully functional, portable TV.
We also noticed more HP, MSI, and ASUS laptops. A laptop with glasses-free 3D, a sizable Zenbook Pro 16X with lots of space for thermal dissipation, and a Zenbook 14X with a ceramic build are all products of ASUS. Both of the latter Zenbooks include OLED displays. In the meantime, HP unveiled a new line of Dragonfly Pro laptops that are designed to simplify the purchasing process for customers by removing the majority of configuration options. The Windows version exclusively uses an AMD CPU and has a column of hotkeys on the right of the keyboard that provide shortcuts to camera settings, a control center, and 24/7 tech support, whilst the Dragonfly Pro Chromebook has an RGB keyboard and Android-like Material You theming capabilities. The last of these buttons can be programmed to open a particular program, file, or website.
The first of some audio news is now being presented to us, starting with JBL. The business presented its array of five soundbar models for 2023, all of which will support Dolby Atmos. New true wireless earbuds with a “smart” casing including a 1.45-inch touchscreen and controls for volume, playback, ANC, and EQ presets were also introduced. Nearly simultaneously, HP unveiled the Poly Voyager earphones, which are comparable to the JBL in terms of controls and have a touchscreen on the carrying case. However, the Voyager also features a Broadcast mode that enables you to connect the case to an older device with a headphone port (like while you’re on an airline) via the provided 3.5mm to USB-C connection, so you can view movies during a flight without having to bring along a second set of headphones.
Not only today but also the remainder of the week will see a ton more CES news. I was unable to tell you about Citizen’s latest wristwatch or Samsung’s new, more affordable Galaxy A14 smartphone. Keep checking back for updates on all CES 2023 news.
World’s Oldest Prosthetic Is a Wooden Toe
Sometimes, it’s hard to appreciate how far technology has progressed, especially prosthesis technology. Scientists can now create prosthetics that are controlled by nerve impulses and might soon be able to develop devices that can simulate the sensation of touch. But let’s step back a bit and examine at the origins of prosthetics, mostly because archaeologists have finally found what they think is the world’s first prosthetic.
Recently, Egyptologists from the University of Basel, Switzerland, as well as researchers from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, examined an artificial wooden toe found on the mummified foot of a woman buried in the necropolis of Shiekh ‘Abd el-Qurna. The archaeologists used modern microscopy, X-ray technology, and computer tomography and were able to determine how the prosthetic was made. Furthermore, not only did the researchers determine that the toe is one of the oldest prosthetics to date — around 3000 years old — but they also believe that the person who created it was “very familiar with the human physiognomy.” Apparently, the wooden toe belonged to a priest’s daughter and, according to the team, “The fact that the prosthesis was made in such a laborious and meticulous manner indicated that [the woman] valued the natural look, aesthetics and wearing comfort and that she was able to count on highly qualified specialists to provide this.”
The prosthetic is fairly simple by today’s standards and is merely a single toe connected to panels via straps, but keep in mind the prosthetic is from the “early first Millennium BC.” The artisan had to measure the woman’s foot, carve a piece of wood, fit it, and hope it worked, something that researchers say wasn’t always the case since the toe was apparently refitted several times. Although, the press release is unclear if this is due to a mistake on the creator’s part or if the woman merely outgrew the prosthesis, but regardless of the refitting, the prosthetic is a testament to the skill of ancient Egyptian prosthetists, as well as how far prosthetic technology has progressed. The woman probably only could have afforded the prosthetic due to her family’s wealth (ancient Egyptian priests were extremely high on the social status ladder, second only to the pharaoh), but most people today can afford vastly superior prosthetics. Who knows how much prosthetics will advance, and become affordable, in another 3000 years.
New Muscle Grafting Process Could Revolutionize Prostheses
When most people think about advances in prosthetics, they think about robotic feet with rotating ankles and robotic arms with fully moving fingers. Few people consider the possibility of improving the functionality of prosthetics without improving the prosthetics themselves, but a new surgical procedure might do just that.
A team of scientist led by S. S. Srinivasan from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently published a study in Science Robotics, a journal produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Srinivasan’s team wanted to address a major problem often associated with myoelectric prosthetics. These prosthetics move when they detect nerve signals, but electrodes sometimes have difficulty reading these signals from the leftover severed nerves. In response to this shortcoming, Srinivasan’s team developed a revolutionary new procedure that inserts two muscle grafts under the skin; these grafts are sutured so that when the one muscle stretches, the other contracts, and vice versa. The severed nerves are then connected to these muscles and allowed to grow and spread through the grafts. The result is known as an “agonist-antagonist myoneural interface.”
You might wonder what sets the nerves inside these grafts apart from nerves in the rest of the body. Not only can electrodes read them easier, but they also provide natural neural feedback. According to one of the members of the team, Hugh Herr, the grafts are designed to take advantage of “the fundamental motor unit in biology, two muscles acting in opposition.” In other words, the nerves in one graft send signals to the brain whenever the other graft moves. Standard myoelectric prosthetic electrode interfaces only receive signals from the brain and don’t send signals to the brain, which means the agonist-antagonist myoneural interface can provide a facsimile of sensation absent in most prosthetics interfaces. Furthermore, this procedure has uses outside of myoelectric prosthetics, as the newly-grown nerves in the grafts are less likely to develop into neuromas — a painful tumor made out of nerve cells.
This procedure is purportedly low-risk and fairly minor as far as surgeries go, but so far the study only tested the process on lab rats. We will have to wait until the researchers can move to human testing before we know the effectiveness of the process. If you are interested in reading the full study, it is available on the Science Robotics site, albeit only available to people with AAAS memberships. However, a cliff notes version of the study is readily available on sciencemag.org (full credit goes to Matthew Hutson, as I used his article as my primary resource).
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