When I Saw This "Bionic Skin", All I Could Say Was "Wow"

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An entirely new class of human beings is about to roam the Earth.

In fact, scientists have just scored a major breakthrough that brings us much closer to the day of bionics.

Quite simply, bionics is the name I use for biological members of our species who have any number of high-tech "upgrades"-not too much different from what "Steve Austin" famously received in the 70's.

With the technology we have today, these could include neural implants that combat brain disease, sensors embedded in your eyes, and a heart grown from synthetic cells.

And now these people can even have artificial skin, too, if they need it.

This breakthrough comes from Stanford University. When I came across it, all I could say was "Wow"…

It's the first man-made material that acts very much like real skin and so could become useful to patients on a daily basis.

It's extremely sensitive to touch, for one thing. The material can detect infinitesimal changes in pressure – even as small as when a fly lands on it. What's more, the material can heal itself, quickly, and over and over again. (I'll show you how in a moment.)

This is early-stage work, but I do see a very strong investment potential coming soon.

That's because Stanford has a very active program to license its inventions to companies. Lying in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford's been doing this since 1970. Turns out the university wants to make money, too.

Just look at its charter: "Without a company willing to invest in bringing the invention to marketplace, many potential benefits of these breakthroughs are likely to end on the page" in some scientific journal. "Our charter is to help turn scientific progress into tangible products, while returning income to the inventor and to the University to support further research."

With regard to the "skin" Stanford has developed, the potential for products – and profits – is tremendous. We're talking applications in medicine, electronics, construction, and even aircraft.

Team members said this "skin" could lead to a new generation of smarter prosthetics. It could also help pave the way for electronics that can heal themselves under the right conditions. And soft robots whose outer layers are sensitive to touch. The self-repair feature means it could function in tight spaces where it's hard to make repairs, like walls, autos, and jetliners.

Of course, it could be a boon to people who wear prosthetic limbs. The material is subtle enough to detect the pressure of a handshake and also responds well to flexing, which could help give people instant feedback about the degree of bend in a joint.

That's why I believe this one's got "winner" written all over it…

The lab started with plastic that had long chains of molecules joined by hydrogen bonds. This process created a weak attraction. That means the positive region of one atom did not want to bind tightly with the negative region of the next one. This was key to the result, because the loose bond is where the self-healing property came from.

After forming the plastic, team members then added particles of nickel to give the substance its mechanical strength. The tiny surfaces of the pieces of metal remained rough, which helped in getting current to flow from one section to the next – itself a rare feat in the use of plastics.

Now this is the part that just amazes me.

To test their new substance, team members took a thin strip and cut it in half with a scalpel. They gently pressed the pieces together for a few seconds. The "skin" gained back 75% of its original strength and conductivity right away.

And it gets better. In just half an hour, the plastic stuff was nearly 100% restored.

In a case like that, actual human skin might take days to repair itself. Not only that, but the synthetic skin withstood 50 cuts and repairs and could still stretch and bend as though it were brand new.

And I know of one person who could make great use of this breakthrough.

His name is Zac Vawter. On Nov. 4, he made history by climbing all 103 floors of the Chicago Willis Tower (that's 2,109 steps) using the first-ever fully "bionic leg" – a prosthetic limb he controlled with his mind.

"One of the biggest differences for me is being able to take stairs step-over-step like everyone else," Vawter told the media. "With my standard prosthesis, I have to take every step with my good foot first and sort of lift or drag the prosthetic leg up. With the bionic leg, it's simple, I take stairs like I used to, and can even take two at a time."

As I see it, in the very near future, science will find a way to combine synthetic skin with "smart" prosthetic devices. At that point, the Zac Vawters of the world will look and walk just like any other able-bodied person.

Now you know why I believe the Era of Radical Change will see the advent of the "bionics" I've been telling you about. In the very near future, these products will make it to market.

And you know what that means – we'll find ways to invest in the cutting-edge high tech that will redefine the future of the human race.

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About the Author

Michael A. Robinson is one of the top financial analysts working today. His book "Overdrawn: The Bailout of American Savings" was a prescient look at the anatomy of the nation's S&L crisis, long before the word "bailout" became part of our daily lexicon. He's a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and reporter, lauded by the Columbia Journalism Review for his aggressive style. His 30-year track record as a leading tech analyst has garnered him rave reviews, too. Today he is the editor of the monthly tech investing newsletter Nova-X Report as well as Radical Technology Profits, where he covers truly radical technologies – ones that have the power to sweep across the globe and change the very fabric of our lives – and profit opportunities they give rise to. He also explores "what's next" in the tech investing world at Strategic Tech Investor.

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  1. Paul Schwerdt | November 17, 2012

    May I ask do you know who Stanford may be talking with for potential investment?

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