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If you remember Roman Polanski’s ‘The Skin I live in’, then forget it immediately because A) It was poor attempt at film making and B) It’s not what we are here to discuss!
What we are going to discuss is the next step in technology or rather the possible route technology could take in the next decade. From eyewear and watches, technology has made its way into the basic apparel of Wrist gear and Google lenses, bringing in tune the senses with technology. All 5 senses of the human body are tuned into techno products. But the next possible step is the very skin we possess.
And hence we delve into the world of Flexible Organic Electronics.
Artificial Electronic skin or E-Skin could be a reality in the near future. According to researchers, technology has improved so far that in the near future, Smart phones could be embedded in your skin with a direct nervous link to your brain. Seem a bit farfetched? But the reality is that millions of dollars are being pumped into this sector to continue and enhance this technology.
The most basic and primitive version of this technology is the ELECTRONIC TATTOO. In 2004, researchers, in a joint venture, from Japan and America unveiled their latest innovation which was a pressure sensor circuit made from pre-stretched thinned silicon strips that could be applied to the forearm. This could convert your arm into a touch screen! But the negative impact is that since Silicon is a rigid and structured compound and skin is flexible and stretchy, compatibility on the molecular and tissue level were quite stark.
Hence, research was carried out to supplement this with more organic compounds. It was usually special plastics or Graphene(which conducts electricity) which formed the basic core ingredient of e-skin. Apart from this, there would be an added requirement of flexible and organic LED screens, transistors and circuit boards to carry out the functions.
The synopsis of this technology is basically it helps in the field of advanced robotics. These special skins are used in robots to give them human like features and human perception. These skins are programmed with proximity and tactile sensors that enable the robot to detect distances and force applied which enable them to work more carefully under controlled environments. The new e-skins being developed can also detect temperatures further boosting the safety factor. These skins enhance the external stimuli to protect themselves.
If this can integrate into human skins, it can serve the same purpose, detecting for example, harmful movements during sports or hazardous working conditions. Imagine the safety factor provided to human with the advent of this type of technology.
Most companies as of now are aiming to create bendable touch screens to be embedded into arms rather than ordinary pico projectors from bracelets. But the hope or rather aim is to one day be able to build this technology directly into the human system.
But the problem with organic electronics as of now is that aren’t very reliable, which results in poor electronic performance. Another disadvantage noticed is that just like normal human skin, the e-skin tends to become flaky and bendy and this disintegrates and breaks off resulting in a breakdown of the system and it falling apart. The skin was noticed to form wrinkles too. Plus, due to the chemical structure of inorganic compounds, the e-skin was noticed to function at a pace 1000 times slower than normal technology. This results in a frustrating lag.
Another major drawback is the bio-compatibility. The main result of e-skin is to integrate the product with human skin without causing much problems such as medical complications and bio-rejection and smoothly interface with the nervous system.
But the plus point is that organic compounds are largely Carbon based just like our human body so the chances of bio-acceptance and smooth functioning is equally high if not low at times. But carbon on passing through cells is found to be cancerous and can cause tumors and inflammation in the skin.
However, scientists have already entered the second phase of e-skin technology. Scientists at the University of Osaka have already been able to link the tech to the nervous system. They are spear heading a team that are creating a brain implant made from a flexible matrix of organic thin film transistors that could be embedded in our soft cerebrum cortex and be activated just be thinking. But the only minor problem standing in their way is that embedding this type of technology into our brain could lead to severe medical complications when the testing enters the human phase. And any manipulation of bodily tissue to combat human enhancement is in direct violation of the Harvard genome protocol that prohibits DNA manipulation and altering. The whole agenda behind this technology is to create a direct link to your brain to do certain work. But geneticists are concerned about the concept of Intelligence manipulation through this technology. Since the entire nervous system works on electrical linkages and current flowing through the synapses, a small alteration in the genome could result in a possible internal rewiring which could affect the pathway that deals with thought and reasoning. In other words, the person’s mindset and way of thinking will change. It might seem like something fresh out of a Steven Spielberg movie, but the reality of the situation is no less.
But in the coming years, we will see a seismic increase in e-skin technology. It will gain momentum in terms of tactile and wearable sensors that could harvest human energy produced and be stored to use for future bodily purposes. What might take some time is the embedding of complex circuits, like those found in smart phones, into our nervous system as we haven’t harnessed that level of prototype tech. But time is on our hands and the future of e-skin is very bright. And with the way money is being pumped into the sector, the future of e-skin is not far off. It’s future is almost glowing, just like your skin.