This bionic finger renders 3D images of objects by poking them

Time to replace X-ray machines with bionic fingers.
Rupendra Brahambhatt
Bionic finger scanning letter A (in the big red square).
Bionic finger scanning letter A (in the big red square).

Li et al 

A team of researchers at Wiyu University (WYU) in China has created a bionic finger that can create 3D maps of the interiors of any object just by poking it gently and repeatedly, according to a press release.

This unique device can scan both living and non-living objects for any internal anomalies just by applying pressure on its surface. It could be used for performing non-destructive scanning and testing of the human body and various electronic applications in the future. 

Imagine your son or daughter has an electronic toy train that they love to play with, but then due to some problem, the train stops working, and your kid starts crying. What would you do? If you are a parent who is overconfident about his or her engineering skills, you will immediately open up the toy and start looking for issues. 

While doing so, most parents either end up damaging the toy or find it difficult to put its different parts back together again, making their kids cry more. However, if you have the bionic finger, you can spot the problem in the toy train without opening it. Similarly, the bionic finger could also allow a doctor to diagnose a body part without performing surgery or an X-ray. 

How does the bionic finger 3D map objects?

According to the study authors, the finger takes its inspiration from human fingers to perform tactile tomography (imaging an object by scanning the different sections or slices that form the whole object). 

"We were inspired by human fingers, which have the most sensitive tactile perception that we know of. For example, when we touch our own bodies with our fingers, we can sense not only the texture of our skin but also the outline of the bone beneath it," said Jianyi Luo, one of the study authors and a professor at WYU, in the press release.

The bionic finger is made of carbon fiber material which gets compressed every time it pokes an object. To scan an object, the finger moves across its entire surface while constantly poking and applying pressure on it. 

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The compression sensed by the carbon fiber body of the finger provides information about the softness of an object. If an object's surface also compresses during the scan, it provides details about its rigidity and internal composition.

All these details collected by the bionic finger about the object's structure and formation start appearing on a computer screen in the form of a 3D map. The researchers employed their bionic fingers to create 3D profiles of objects like a rigid 'A' letter-shaped object covered in soft silicone, a simulated human tissue, and some flexible electronic devices. 

The 3D profiles revealed the numerous soft and hard layers within these objects and were also able to highlight their texture and internal structures like grooves (in letter A), blood vessels (in the human tissue), and disconnected circuits (inside the electronics).

These findings pave the path for a novel non-destructive 3D mapping technology that could change the way we scan objects and people. The researchers will not test the bionic finger for conducting different types of surface scanning on different materials.

The study is published in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science.

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