A nervous feeling

Bringing us a step closer to prosthetics that can “feel” is a prototype of an artificial nerve built by NTU researchers that can detect mechanical stimulation and transmit these signals electrically.

Mimicking how nerve cells convert mechanical signals into electrical signals that get sent to the brain, Assoc Prof Zheng Yuanjin of NTU’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and his colleagues designed an all-in-one bionic artificial nerve that integrates the functions of perception, recognition and transmission.

The artificial nerve consists of an electrical double-layer structure that can detect external mechanical stimulation such as physical touch. Due to its architecture, it is able to integrate mechano-perception and signal transmission, as well as recognise the location of external mechanical stimulation, without requiring the integration of multiple sensing units.

The team is working on making the artificial nerve stretchable and biocompatible, with the aim of developing prosthetics that contain “feeling” nerves.

“By incorporating the function of spatiotemporal resolution and algorithmic analysis, we hope that our bionic artificial nerves will promote further development of sophisticated neuroprosthetics and intelligent robotics,” the researchers say.

More about this research can be found in “A bioinspired analogous nerve towards artificial intelligence” in Nature Communications (2020), DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-14214-x. Watch a video of the artificial nerve playing a virtual piano (Supplementary Movie 1).

The article appeared first in NTU’s research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #17, August 2020).

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