Neuromorphic circuits impart a sense of touch

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Science  01 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6392, pp. 966-967
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat3125

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The sense of touch is the ability to perceive consistency, texture, and shape of objects that we manipulate, and the forces we exchange with them. Touch is a source of information that we effortlessly decode to smoothly and naturally grasp and manipulate objects, maintain our posture while walking, or avoid stumbling into obstacles, allowing us to plan, adapt, and correct actions in an ever-changing external world. As such, artificial devices, such as robots or prostheses, that aim to accomplish similar tasks must possess artificial tactile-sensing systems. On page 998 of this issue, Kim et al. (1) report on a “neuromorphic” tactile sensory system based on organic, flexible, electronic circuits that can measure the force applied on the sensing regions. The encoding of the signal is similar to that used by human nerves that are sensitive to tactile stimuli (mechanoreceptors), so the device outputs can substitute for them and communicate with other nerves (e.g., residual nerve fibers of amputees or motor neurons). The proposed system exploits organic electronics that allow for three-dimensional printing of flexible structures that conform to large curved surfaces, as required for placing sensors on robots (2) and prostheses.