By Kate Raddatz

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — New research at the University of Minnesota could put technology in the tip of your finger.

Engineers have developed a new 3D printing process that can mold an electronic device onto a model hand. The “bionic skin” could give robots the sense of touch or, someday, humans the ability to have technology in their skin.

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When it comes to 3D printing, the University of Minnesota is paving the way to the future.

(credit: CBS)

“One of the things we’ve been interested in for a while is weather you can print 3D on your body, or for example, on your hand,” associate professor of mechanical engineering Michael Mcalpine said.

Engineering researchers have created a new 3D printing process for electronic, sensory devices that could give robots the ability to feel their environment, and could someday mold to human skin.

“You can imagine surgical tools — right now doctors rely on images when they do surgery, but if you could give the tools a sense of touch, a sense of touch feedback, it may make the surgery easier to accomplish,” Mcalpine said.

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Dr. Mcalpine worked on the project for a year. So far, they’ve used a model hand as the test subject.

The 3D device is less than a millimeter in width, but has six layers of sensory fabric. It’s so light, it can be wiped off with a towel.

(credit: CBS)

“Whenever you touch it, it gives an electronic signal,” Mcalpine said. “It’s so sensitive it can measure your pulse.”

Giving robots the sense of touch sounds like something out of a movie, but it’s real and only a matter of time.

“At some point it will be difficult to distinguish the humans from the robots with these new technologies,” Mcalpine said. “I don’t know, I think it’s kind of fun.”

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The researchers have approval to test on human skin as the next step. They’ll be looking for volunteers to test the device on.

Kate Raddatz