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Biomechanics of skin can perform useful tactile computations

As our body's largest and most prominent organ, the skin also provides one of our most fundamental connections to the world around us. From the moment we're born, it is intimately involved in every physical interaction we have.

Though scientists have studied the sense of touch, or haptics, for more than a century, many aspects of how it works remain a mystery.

"The sense of touch is not fully understood, even though it is at the heart of our ability to interact with the world," said UC Santa Barbara haptics researcher Yon Visell, "Elasticity plays this very basic function in the skin of engaging thousands of sensory receptors for touch in the skin, even when contact occurs at a small skin area," he explained. "This allows us to use far more sensory resources than would otherwise be available to interpret what it is that we're touching." The remarkable finding of their research is that this process also makes it possible to more efficiently capture information in the tactile signals, Visell said. Information processing of this kind is normally considered to be performed by the brain, rather than the skin.

These findings, according to the researchers, not only contribute to our understanding of the brain, but may also suggest new approaches for the engineering of future prosthetic limbs for amputees that might be endowed with skin-like elastic materials. Similar methods also could one day be used to improve tactile sensing by next-generation robots.



The physiological activities of various systems of the human body, such as the circulatory system, exercise system, digestive system, respiratory system, and urinary system, are affected by mechanic factors and are in a mechanic environment.

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