You can’t blame people for wanting to save their own skin. It’s a marvel, after all, protecting organs and muscle underneath while sending the brain crucial information (“This is hot!” or “This feels good!”) about the outside world.

Unfortunately, the skinlike surface used for artificial hands and other prosthetic devices isn’t capable of communicating much. Now scientists at Stanford University have come up with synthetic skin that acts like it knows when it is being touched and sends out the news as if by telegraph. The technology may be a step toward making prosthetic hands sensitive enough for tasks requiring carefully modulated strength.

Unlike prior such efforts to make artificial skin, this one doesn’t rely on a computer to process electrical signals and so doesn’t need much external power. Instead, tiny transistors distributed in a layer beneath the skin send signals without using a microprocessor.

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