We associate pain with negativity, and if possible, most people would probably prefer to never feel physical pain. However, it is an evolutionary mechanism that lets us know we need to act to the stimulus causing the pain, such as heat. Skin is one of the first protective measures against exterior threats. With this being a particularly important protection, RMIT University, located in Melbourne, Australia, has worked to create artificial skin that can sense pain and return the signals to the person’s brain. This skin is meant to feel three factors that contribute to pain: cold, heat, and pressure. These sensations must reach a particular level before it signals the brain that a reaction is required.
One of the potential uses for the artificial skin is to apply it to smart prosthetics so that the person can remove their prosthetic from potential damage. As the researcher Madhu Bhaskaran pointed out, the focus for prosthetics has largely been on motion. The artificial skin could help protect prosthetics though, making it more likely that they would lot longer.
There are several other potential applications for artificial skin. One of the other uses for patients is for burn victims or others who require skin grafts. Ultimately, actual skin is grafted over damaged areas, but artificial skin could work as a temporary solution until actual skin can be grafted to the damaged site. Another potential solution it could provide is surgical gloves to help make the wearer more sensitive when handling delicate procedures. In the long term, the thought is that this skin could be used on more androids and other robots to make them more lifelike. While Bhaskaran and the other researchers are keeping this in mind, they are primarily interested in the biomedical uses.
The idea of making people able to feel pan seems counter intuitive, but as the article points out, it is essential. To get a better understanding of why medical professionals would want to make it possible, read through the full New Artificial Skin Can Feel Real Pain article.