Did you touch and taste unknown substances to identify them when you were young? Most of us share that past experience and while we may continue the procedure in our kitchens, we don’t employ that method of inspection as a general practice. Researchers at the University of Houston‘s Texas Center for Superconductivity have a multi-functional ultra-thin wearable electronic device in development that could one day collect, store, and interpret information about anything it touches.

Whether covering a human or robotic hand or serving as the outer layer of a prosthetic, the thin skin-like wearable is only a few microns thick. “You will not be able to feel it,” UH associate professor of mechanical engineering Cunjiang Yu promises. In a paper published in Science Advances the University of Houston team described the device as a metal oxide semiconductor on a polymer base. Ultrathin, stretchable, and mechanically imperceptible according to the researchers, the human-machine interface (HMI) system can capture multiple data types. Because the wearable can also provide feedback, it can act as a closed-loop HMI.

Applications for the wearable skin could include detecting chemical spills or other risky contact inspections. Yu also suggested potential healthcare applications such as shaking hands with a robot wearing the skin so the robot could gather data about your health and physical condition.