Soumac’s WOW Blog: Getting a Feel for Bionic Tech

Amputation surgery and prosthetic limbs have been around since the dawn of human medicine. In fact, the first recorded use of an artificial limb dates back to the fifth Egyptian Dynasty (2750 BC), where a prisoner who escaped his shackles by cutting off his foot was provided with a wooden substitute.

Of course, amputation surgery and prostheses have come a long in the last 4,500 years and are often used as a form of lifesaving treatment.

Throughout decades of medical and technological advancement, prosthetic limbs have evolved from wooden pegs and hooks to fully mechanical aids that work with the amputee’s body.

In 1919, a German book, titled ‘Limb Substitutes and Work Aids’ contained conceptual designs for the first externally powered prostheses, using pneumatic and electric power sources. However, these revolutionary designs were too complex to be created with the technology at the time.

It wasn’t until 1960 that the first clinically significant myoelectric prosthesis was unveiled by Russian scientist, Alexander Kobrinski and featured the ability to control hand movement.

Using transistors reduced bulk, and improved the portability of the device, however, it was still heavy, movement was slow, pinch force was weak, wire connections were susceptible to damage and electrical interference compromised reliability.

Thanks to lighter materials and improved technology, amputees now have greater control over their prosthetic limbs, allowing full control via their brain and nerves.

Introducing New Prosthetic Tech

Despite revolutionary breakthroughs in the world of amputation and prosthesis, artificial limbs are still missing one crucial component… the ability to allow the user to feel what they are touching.

In 2021, Stanford University researcher, Zhenan Bao and her team announced that they are 1 step closer to creating an artificial skin with embedded electronics that can flex and bend with the human body and would have the potential to allow users to feel once again.

The artificial skin squeezes around 40,000 transistors in 1sqcm of stretchable circuitry – and they believe they could double this in the near future.

Although 40-80,000 transistors per sq cm may sound like a lot, billions of transistors can fit in the equivalent area of a solid silicon chip.

Bao said “We use our skin as an inspiration to make new types of electronics that are ultrathin, stretchable, healable, and biodegradable, and yet have electronic properties. Our goal is to change how we interact with electronics to ultimately improve human health.”

Soumac’s view

It is exciting to see this advanced technology being developed and learning of its potential impact in the medical industry.

With the ever-increasing adoption of wearable tech, we can see Bao’s artificial skin being applied across many industries and working towards a world in which bioelectronics are commonplace.

At Soumac, we love to see the technological developments being made across all sectors and are always on hand to support businesses with their printed circuit board assembly needs to help bring their ideas to life.

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