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A skin-inspired organic digital mechanoreceptor

Science  16 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6258, pp. 313-316
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa9306

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Sensing the force digitally

Our skin provides us with a flexible waterproof barrier, but it also contains a sensor array that feels the world around us. This array provides feedback and helps us to avoid a hot object or increase the strength of our grip on an object that may be slipping away. Tee et al. describe an approach to simulate the mechanoreceptors of human skin, using pressure-sensitive foils and printed ring oscillators (see the Perspective by Anikeeva and Koppes). The sensor successfully converted pressure into a digital response in a pressure range comparable to that found in a human grip.

Science, this issue p. 313; see also p. 274

Abstract

Human skin relies on cutaneous receptors that output digital signals for tactile sensing in which the intensity of stimulation is converted to a series of voltage pulses. We present a power-efficient skin-inspired mechanoreceptor with a flexible organic transistor circuit that transduces pressure into digital frequency signals directly. The output frequency ranges between 0 and 200 hertz, with a sublinear response to increasing force stimuli that mimics slow-adapting skin mechanoreceptors. The output of the sensors was further used to stimulate optogenetically engineered mouse somatosensory neurons of mouse cortex in vitro, achieving stimulated pulses in accordance with pressure levels. This work represents a step toward the design and use of large-area organic electronic skins with neural-integrated touch feedback for replacement limbs.

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