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Chinese Scientists Develop Groundbreaking Sensory System for Prosthetic Limbs and Robotics

A team of Chinese scientists from the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), Xidian University, and the University of Houston has unveiled an innovative sensory system designed to replicate the human fingertip’s sense of touch. The breakthrough technology aims to bring a lifelike sensation of touch to robots or individuals with prosthetic limbs.

The AI-powered sensor, integrated into a prosthetic fingertip, has demonstrated the ability to recognize various textures, including wool, linen, nylon, polyester, and twill, providing real-time feedback to users. Published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications, the researchers noted that the system achieved 100% accuracy in identifying 20 different commercial textiles at a fixed sliding rate.

The potential applications of this sensory system are vast, ranging from enhancing the sensing technologies in robotics and prosthetics to aiding sensory recovery in patients with artificial prostheses. The researchers also envision applications in haptics-based virtual reality and consumer electronics.

The sensor, attached to the fingertip of a prosthetic hand, transmits signals to a computer as it slides across different textiles. The signals are then analyzed using machine learning, with the recognition results displayed on a screen.

Lead author Guo Chuanfei, a professor at SUSTech’s department of materials science and engineering, highlighted the simplicity and robustness of their single-sensor system compared to existing ones requiring two sensors and data acquisition systems.

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While challenges remain in transmitting electrical signals directly to the brain through nerves, the team is exploring alternative methods. Guo mentioned the possibility of transmitting signals to other parts of the body, such as the upper arm or chest, allowing the brain to process the sensory information.

Beyond robotics and prosthetics, the researchers believe their technology could find applications in virtual reality. Users might experience the sensation of touch remotely during video calls or feel the texture of products when shopping online.

The project exemplifies cross-disciplinary research, seamlessly integrating artificial intelligence, materials science, and robotics to push the boundaries of sensory technology.

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