A tactile imaging sensor developed by Temple University engineers is able to give doctors important early information on lesions or tumors. A key part of a patient’s physical exam is performed through touch but the doctor can only obtain so much information. Temple University researchers have now created a prototype device to cost around $500 that has the capability to emulate human tactile sensation.
As Chang-Hee Won, Director of the Control Sensor, Network, and Perception Laboratory at Temple’s College of Engineering and one of the developers of the device explained, “Human hands have this amazing ability to touch something and to tell if it is soft or hard, wet, or even warmth. We are trying to emulate this tactile sensation with a device that will actually quantify this by giving us the mechanical properties of what we are feeling.”
Won explained that the tactile imaging sensor could aid doctors when they feel lesions lumps or tumors while doing physical exams on patients by detecting the size and shape of the lesion or tumor as well as its elasticity and mobility and also be able to characterize the mechanical properties of the irregularity.
When the doctor feels an irregularity while giving a patient a physical exam, the doctor can then place the sensor against the skin where the irregularity was felt with the portable tactile imaging sensor attached to any desktop or laptop computer.
The sensor uses the total internal reflection principle, which keeps the injected light within the elastomer cube unless an intrusion from a lesion or tumor changes the contour of the elastomer’s surface. At that time, the light will reflect out of the cube. The sensor’s camera will then capture the lesion or tumor images caused by the reflected light, process the image using a novel algorithm, and then calculate the lesion’s mechanical properties.
According to Won, studies have shown that cancerous lesions and tumors tend to be larger, more irregular in shape and have harder elasticity. With the information obtained by the new sensor device, it is anticipated that doctors will be able to determine the probability being either malignant or benign.