University of Houston researchers have developed an artificial skin that allows a robotic hand to sense the difference between hot and cold.
Lead author and Assistant Professor Cunjiang Yu said the work is the first to create a semiconductor in a rubber composite format, designed to allow the electronic components to retain functionality even after the material is stretched by 50 percent.
Traditional semiconductors are brittle and using them in otherwise stretchable materials requires a complicated system of mechanical accommodations. And this is where the stretchable fabric stands out:
“Our strategy has advantages for simple fabrication, scalable manufacturing, high-density integration, large strain tolerance and low cost,” he said.
Yu and the rest of the team – first author Hae-Jin Kim, Kyoseung Sim and Anish Thukral – created the electronic skin and used it to demonstrate that a robotic hand could sense the temperature of hot and iced water in a cup.
The skin also was able to interpret computer signals sent to the hand and reproduce the signals as American Sign Language.
The artificial skin is just one application. Researchers said the discovery of a material that is soft, bendable, stretchable and twistable will impact future development in soft wearable electronics, including health monitors, medical implants and human-machine interfaces.
The stretchable composite semiconductor was prepared by using a silicon-based polymer known as polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS, and tiny nanowires to create a solution that hardened into a material which used the nanowires to transport electric current.
Image and excerpts: University of Houston