(CNN) - A team of researchers at RMIT University in Australia was able to develop artificial skin that reacts to pain stimuli just like real skin.
The artificial skin is made of silicone rubber, has a texture that mimics real skin, and is "similar to the skin in its mechanical properties," said Professor Madu Bhaskaran, professor of engineering at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and lead researcher for the project.
It can lead to pioneering innovations in the field of prosthetics and robotics.
Just like real skin, the synthetic version is designed to react when pressure, heat or cold exceeds the pain limit, and its outer layers are made up of electronic circuits with sensors that respond to pain stimuli.
Bhaskaran explains that human skin is designed to send electrical signals to the central nervous system, explaining that the electronic circuits in the synthetic version work in a similar way, at the same speed.
When we touch something burning, the pain receptors in our skin send an electrical signal through the nerves to the brain. The brain sends its own electrical signal to start a response, for example a reaction to move the affected limb from the body away from the heat source.
In almost the same way, when a sensor in the artificial skin detects a pain killer, it sends an electrical signal to parts that mimic the brain in the structure, Bhaskaran said. These parts can be programmed to trigger the action of motion.
The important thing here is the pain limit, Bhaskaran points out, explaining that although we feel constantly motivated, we only react at a certain point, "like touching something very hot."
It shows that the brain and skin compare stimuli and determine which is dangerous. When developing artificial skin, scientists set those limits for brain-mimicking electronics.
The result is artificial skin that can differentiate between the gentle touch of a pin or a painful stab.
Artificial skin can help develop intelligent prostheses covered with functional skin that reacts to pain like human limbs, allowing the wearer to know if he touches something that may cause damage.
"We've come a long way with prosthetics, but the focus has been heavily on the kinetic actions that the prosthesis can perform," says Bhaskaran.
Because traditional prostheses do not contain skin, they do not sense external hazards, so having a skin-like layer will make them more realistic, Bhaskaran said.
Bhaskaran believes that artificial skin has the potential to be used for skin grafts. It can also be used to make smart surgical gloves, providing the sensation that is usually lost when wearing protective gloves.
The most forward-looking applications are robots, as pain-sensing artificial skin not only provides realistic functions, but also gives a potential human robot with the ability to feel pain, an interesting step not only technologically, but also philosophically.