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Star Wars inspires researchers to build artificial skin that can feel

With Luke Skywalker's prosthetic hand in mind, a team at the National University of Singapore brings touch to electronic skin.

National University of Singap

Scientists at a top Singapore university say they have built electronic skin that can be used in robots and prosthetic limbs to recreate a sense of touch that's akin to human touch, if not more responsive.

The electronic skin, known as Asynchronous Coded Electronic Skin, consists of a network of sensors connected via a single electrical conductor. It could be used in robots or prosthetic limbs to to create a sense of touch that feels pain, temperature, shape and texture, according to the team of scientists at the National University of Singapore who spent a year and a half developing it. 

"When you lose your sense of touch, you essentially become numb ... and prosthetic users face that problem," said Benjamin Tee, an assistant professor at NUS who is leading the research team behind the electronic skin, in a Reuters interview.

"So by recreating an artificial version of the skin, for their prosthetic devices, they can hold a hand and feel the warmth and feel that it is soft, how hard are they holding the hand." 

Luke Skywalker prosthetic hand

After having his hand cut off by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker used this prosthetic.

James Martin/CNET

According to Reuters, Tee traced back his inspiration to a scene in Star Wars episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke Skywalker loses his right hand, which is replaced by a robotic one that's able to experience the sense of touch. 

ACES was first developed in 2019, but in July this year the NUS team demonstrated how it can help robots become smarter when equipped with their electronic skin and vision sensors. The benefits included enabling robots to read braille and to classify objects.   

This isn't the first futuristic skin that Tee and his team have created. Last March, they unveiled a self-healing, stretchable skin that could allow humans to better interact with robots.