The future, it just keeps happening really.
Imagine if you will, that you have been in a horrific accident. You have had to have a limb removed, say your arm. The realm of prosthetics has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last few years. Work is being done on limbs that can tie directly into the patients nervous system, 3d printing is being used to mould custom facings and powered limbs are sensitive enough now to allow people to use them to pick up delicate objects with confidence.
Up until now however they hav been lacking in something that we all take for granted. The sense of touch. As powerful and refined as these limbs can be, they cannot transmit the feeling of holding an eggshell between your fingers or even the temperature of a sinkful of water.
A team from Georgia Institute of Technology is aiming to change that with a material embedded with microscopically thin zinc alloy sensors which generate an electric signal when deformed. By measuring the signal generated by these thousands of sensors they are able to build up a sensation model.
The key is to now figure out how to turn this model into something that the brain can translate.