Prosthetic that can feel both pain could help amputees avoid injury

The prosthetic that can feel PAIN: Remarkable device wrapped in electronic skin could help amputees sense touch to avoid injury

  • Thin layer of rubber and fabric known as e-dermis fits over a prosthetic hand 
  • Device generates pulses of electricity that stimulate nerves in the upper arm 
  • Shocks fire from the fingertips when the electronic skin touches objects
  • Feeling pain is vital to a fully-functioning limb as the sensation helps us to protect our bodies 

A prosthetic wrapped in electronic skin that can feel both pain and touch could help amputees avoid injury.

The skin, known as e-dermis, is a thin layer of rubber and fabric that fits over the fingertips of a prosthetic hand and generates pulses of electricity.

These small shocks fire into nerves in the stump to simulate a real feeling of touch when the electronic skin makes contact with objects.

The team has already tested e-dermis on an anonymous amputee, who described the experience ‘as if a hollow shell got filled with life again’.

Feeling pain is vital to a fully-functioning limb as the sensation helps us to protect our bodies by removing them from danger.

Scroll down for video 

A new prosthetic skin that can feel both touch and pain could help amputees avoid injury. Known as an e-dermis, the thin layer of rubber and fabric (pictured over thumb and forefinger) fits over a prosthetic hand and generates pulses of electricity that stimulate upper arm nerves

‘Pain is, of course, unpleasant, but it’s also an essential, protective sense of touch that is lacking in the prostheses that are currently available to amputees,’ project researcher and John Hopkins University graduate student Luke Osborn said.

‘Advances in prosthesis designs and control mechanisms can aid an amputee’s ability to regain lost function, but they often lack meaningful, tactile feedback or perception.’

The team at John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, used the complex network of touch receptors in human skin as inspiration for their device.


  • ‘Catastrophic collapse’ of the West Antarctic ice sheet…


    The go anywhere craft set to take US Marines into battle:…


    Snapchat’s newest features add weather animations and…


    Have scientists finally found the universe’s missing matter?…

Share this article

Sensors in e-dermis connect to nerves in the wearer’s stump through electrodes placed on the skin, firing signals in a similar way to real nerves.

Depending on the pattern of pulses sent by the device, it can convey a range of sensations from light touch through to pain.

‘With the sensory feedback we can provide natural sensations to the hand of an amputee,’ Mr Osborn said.

A team at John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, used the complex network of touch receptors in human skin as inspiration for their device (pictured)

HOW DOES THE E-DERMIS PROSTHETIC SKIN WORK?

Scientists at the John Hopkins School of Medicine have developed a prosthetic skin that can feel touch and pain.

The thin layer of rubber and fabric slides over the fingertips of a prosthetic hand and is hooked up to a small computer attached to the upper arm.

When the skin touches an object, it sends electrical signals to electrodes attached to the end of the stump that stimulate nerves in the arm.

Scientists at the John Hopkins School of Medicine have developed a prosthetic skin that slides over the fingertips of prosthetic hands

These short zaps simulate nerve pulses and trigger a pain or touch response in the brain.

Depending on the pattern of pulses sent by the device, it can convey a range of sensations from light touch through to pain.

In tests amputees were able to experience a natural reaction to both pain while grasping a pointed object and touch when feeling a round object.

Small shocks fire through e-dermis from the fingertips when the electronic skin makes contact with sharp or round objects to simulate a real feeling of touch

‘This is really important because it’s taking us one step closer to a life-like upper limb prosthesis.’

The researchers tested a prototype e-dermis on an anonymous amputee who tried the device out while grasping different objects.

The test subject and prosthesis were able to experience a natural reaction to both pain while grasping a pointed object and touch when feeling a round object.

The team also introduced automatic pain reflexes, in which the hand dropped objects that were too sharp without waiting for instructions from the brain, as would happen with a real hand.

Feeling pain is vital to a fully-functioning limb as the sensation helps us to protect our bodies by removing them from danger, according to the researchers. Pictured is a prosthetic hand fitted with e-dermis as it prepares to grasp a sharp object

The participant said of his experience with the prosthetic: ‘After many years, I felt my hand, as if a hollow shell got filled with life again.’

The work, published in the journal Science Robotics, shows it is possible to restore a range of natural, touch-based feelings to amputees who use prosthetic limbs. 

In future the team plans to develop a device that produces a more complete range of touch sensations.

‘It’s really important that we can capture all components of our sense of touch – not just pain but things like texture and temperature too,’ Mr Osborn said.

‘Moving forward we’re going to look at how you can provide sensations of more than just pain back to an amputee.’ 

The team has already tested e-dermis on an anonymous amputee, who described the experience ‘as if a hollow shell got filled with life again’

Source: Read Full Article