Spider-Man-Like “Electronic Skin” Could Warn Humans of Impending Danger

Recent technology is advancing towards the concept of electronic skin. Current experimentation with the nanotechnology based electronic skin demonstrates the capabilities and potential for being used in a variety of ways, including medical applications and biohazard security.

The basis of the electronic skin is there are a number of sensors that can detect and transmit sensations much like human skin. Not only is the material stretchable and wearable, it is also waterproof and comfortable based on the current results. You would put this over your normal skin and sense the same things as normal skin does.

But the research in aimed at far more than these results. Researchers plan to extend the capability of the skin to sense electromagnetic radiation, sound waves, and pressure changes in the atmosphere. Now we are talking about becoming superhuman in some ways because this provides the possibility of extending the sensory ranges of the human skin. So while the current version can be used to help people traumatized by burn damage to their skin, this new electronic skin will actually enable them to sense more than the average person.

The technology will not be available for a number of years, as additional capabilities need to be built in and tested, followed by years of testing before being approved by the Food and Drug Administration for consumer use. For people who are excited about having Spiderman-like abilities today, you might be able to experience them when approaching your 50th birthday.

But the physical dimension of the electronic skin is only one consideration to be evaluated. We know from studies done back in the 1960’s with people who regularly took LSD that if the body’s sensory limits are overloaded, bad things like paranoia are likely. The human body, particularly the brain, is designed to handle a certain number of sensory types and can only process them at a certain rate. Adding the capabilities of skin sound are likely to have unintended consequences, at least for some people. The more capabilities the researchers add to the electronic skin, the greater the stress on the body.

Another possibility is that the electronic skin, which will be placed on top of human skin, will affect the sensory capabilities of normal skin over time. The current designs of electronic skin have it lasting a few years before requiring replacement. However, it does not seem likely that the vast majority of users would keep the skin on all the time, such as sleeping. This would allow for some recovery time and allow the body to physically and psychologically relax.

The basic technology behind the electronic skin, named FO-TENG, consists of three basic components. The first is the nanotube made of silicone and is designed to provide the elasticity needed for it to be practical. This nanotube is filled with what is technically called a ferrofluid (“ferro” for iron) which is a variation of iron oxide and has the ability to respond to the presence of magnetic fields. Good old fashioned copper wire is the third part, and is wrapped around the nanotube to enable the electronic signals received to be sensed by the skin. The formal name of these three components is a “multimodal ferrofluid‐based triboelectric nanogenerator.” Apparently, naming new technologies is becoming increasingly difficult.

Though in its early development stages, particularly in the areas of electromagnetic sensory abilities, the direction is headed toward first marketing a skin that has the basic human skin capabilities, followed by further research and development to increase the skin’s range of sensory abilities. These advanced capabilities are more likely to be tested first for military and first responder applications since safety is one of the most important uses for the technology. It will allow people to enter highly dangerous environments immediately and be fully aware of what they will encounter.

There is likely to be some training required to use the skin to its full potential. For example, the distance which electromagnetic impulses could be detected will need to be sorted out by the human to determine how far the danger exists. Then there are common devices that emit electromagnetic radiation, so there needs to be a way to filter those out. Finally, the plan to include the ability to detect sound waves will have to take into account the amplitude of the waves.

Technology often brings with it optimism, and the electronic skin has a lot of potential. But there still seems to be a lot of work that needs to be done before we can order it online from Amazon.


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