305 — Prosthesis with neuromorphic multilayered e-dermis perceives touch and pain
Pain is really, really complex. Just think about how many different types of pain one can experience, and how rich of a signal that pain is: There’s the sort of pain that just hurts — the first wave of pain when you stub your toe, as your brain goes, ‘oh no, that’s about to hurt so bad’… But then there’s more descriptive pain: That’s hot; that’s sharp; that’s abrasive… In many regards, pain is not a single signal but a complex relationship between sensory signals which all combine to form a complex perception of the world around us.
Why would you want a prosthesis that sensees pain? Because it’s not just there to hurt; it’s there to indicate something important about the environment. The ability to sense pain implies the ability to sense complex stimuli, like vibration, temperature, texture, and more.
Skin is also really, really complex. Embedded in dermal tissue are an abundance of specialized sensory cells. All of these transmit different signals along nerves back to the brain (or sometimes just to the spinal cord…but still; via a nerve!) in slightly different ways. This approach simulates the outputs of these nerve endings using a neuromorphic translation of digitally-monitored tactile sensation. In other words, measurements are converted into a language that the nerve can speak, so that when the prosthesis hardware makes a measurement, it is able to communicate that to the user.