Human skin contains sensitive nerve cells that detect pressure, temperature and other sensations that allow tactile interaction with the environment. To help robots and prosthetic devices achieve this ability, scientists tried to develop electronic skin. Now researchers report a new method at Applied Materials ACS & Interfaces which creates ultrathin and elastic electronic skin, which can be used for various human-machine interactions.
Electronic skin can be used for many applications, including prosthetic devices, health monitors that can be worn, robotics and virtual reality. The main challenge is transferring ultrathin electrical circuits to complex 3D surfaces and then having electronics can be bent and elastic enough to allow movement. Some scientists have developed flexible "electronic tattoos" for this purpose, but their production is usually slow, expensive and requires a method of fabricating clean spaces such as photolithography. Mahmoud Tavakoli, Carmel Majidi and colleagues want to develop a fast, simple and inexpensive method for producing thin film circuits with integrated microelectronics.
In the new approach, the researchers patterned circuit templates onto a piece of paper transfer tattoo with an ordinary desktop laser printer. They then coat the template with silver paste, which is only attached to the printed ink toner. On top of silver paste, the team saved a mixture of gallium-indium molten metal which increased the electrical conductivity and flexibility of the circuit. Finally, they added external electronics, such as microchips, with conductive "glue" made of vertically parallel magnetic particles embedded in polyvinyl alcohol gels. The researchers transferred electronic tattoos to various objects and showed several applications from the new method, such as controlling a robotic prosthetic arm, monitoring human skeletal muscle activity and combining proximity sensors into a 3D hand model.
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