Building the modern "Bionic Man" is no longer sci fi

According to a study published in the current issue of Science magazine, adults may soon be able to gain a sense of “touch” in their prosthetics. In addition, through the use of 3-D printing and collaborations with Lucasfilm and Disney, younger amputees can now be fitted with prosthetics inspired by their favorite characters. And there’s promise that the devices are becoming much more affordable.

Engineers at Stanford University say they have created a stretchable circuit that can sense pressure and transmit that information to mouse tissue in trials. By using pressure-sensitive foils and other barometers on a clear plastic “skin,” they were able to convert pressure into a digital response the brain recognizes as comparable to that found in a human grip.

Researchers say they’re still early in the research process, though, and there are still several hurdles to cross. It will be at least three to five years before there’s a commercially available version of the product.

But U.S. military research agency DARPA is chasing the same goal, claiming they are a bit further ahead of Stanford in the process.