Artificial skin made from thin layers of polymers and carbon nanotubes is being developed that could soon give patients and robots alike the sensation of hot, cold and pressure, its developers said.
The artificial skin repel water and have built-in temperature sensors.
"By employing carbon nanotube technology, we can not only come very close to existing skin characteristics, we may even exceed them," ABC online quoted Dr John Simpson, a senior research scientist at the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Nanomaterials Synthesis and Properties Group, as saying.
Simpson and colleague Ilia Ivanov are working on the so-called FILMskin project, which stands for flexible, integrated, lightweight, multifunctional skin.
For the project, the researchers are using nanotubes because materials made from them can have a range of useful properties.
"[Furthermore] the carbon in nanotubes is biocompatible, meaning the body's immune system does not recognize it as a foreign object. In the future this will help to create sensors wired to a person's nervous system allowing information to flow back and forth to the brain," said Ivanov.
The team is working on a patch of skin with a surface that resists water and can sense changes in temperature and pressure.
The water-resistant top layer will be made from a specially designed nano-structured material.
It starts with tiny particles of sand, each one textured to amplify the effect of surface tension, naturally repelling water.
Such particles could be sprinkled like powder onto polymers and then bonded to the surface with heat, for example.
The coating would keep water or sweat out of seams and joints, where moisture could compromise electronics.