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World’s First Electronic Fingertip May Lead To “Smart” Surgical Gloves

Smart fingertip for surgery

In the latest attempt to create advanced gloves that enhance a surgeon’s performance, an electronic fingertip that heightens the sense of touch has been created.

The device – made in a collaboration with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University, and China’s Dalian University of Technology – consists of flexible silicon-based electronics and soft sensors on an artificial skin base. The appendage is molded to fit the wearer’s fingertips, allowing for the transmission of electronic signals. A mild tingling sensation is formed, which has the potential to recreate the feeling of texture, motion, heat, and resistance.

“Imagine the ability to sense the electrical properties of tissue, and then locally remove that tissue, precisely by local ablation, all via the fingertips using smart surgical gloves,” said John Rogers, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois. He added that “ultrasound imaging could be possible.” Rogers is a co-author on this study, which appeared in the August 10, 2012 issue of Nanotechnology.

Fingers aren’t the only body part that could benefit from a device like this, either. Engineers are currently working on a device that would envelop the entire 3D surface of the heart to allow surgical and diagnostic devices to monitor cardiac arrhythmias. Another possibility is electric skin, which would restore sensation to amputees and burn victims. The next challenge is to provide the device with wireless power and data.

Image credit: John Rogers/University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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