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Science 323 (5920): 1503-1506

Copyright © 2009 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

The Role of Fingerprints in the Coding of Tactile Information Probed with a Biomimetic Sensor

J. Scheibert,* S. Leurent, A. Prevost,{dagger} G. Debrégeas{ddagger}

Abstract: In humans, the tactile perception of fine textures (spatial scale <200 micrometers) is mediated by skin vibrations generated as the finger scans the surface. To establish the relationship between texture characteristics and subcutaneous vibrations, a biomimetic tactile sensor has been designed whose dimensions match those of the fingertip. When the sensor surface is patterned with parallel ridges mimicking the fingerprints, the spectrum of vibrations elicited by randomly textured substrates is dominated by one frequency set by the ratio of the scanning speed to the interridge distance. For human touch, this frequency falls within the optimal range of sensitivity of Pacinian afferents, which mediate the coding of fine textures. Thus, fingerprints may perform spectral selection and amplification of tactile information that facilitate its processing by specific mechanoreceptors.

Laboratoire de Physique Statistique de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure, CNRS UMR 8550, Associé aux Universités Paris 6 et Paris 7, 24 rue Lhomond, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, France.

* Present address: Physics of Geological Processes, University of Oslo, Post Office Box 1048 Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway.

{dagger} Present address: Laboratoire de Physique Théorique, 24 rue Lhomond, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, France.

{ddagger} To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: georges.debregeas{at}

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