A team of researchers has created an electronic skin that includes functionality similar to underwater invertebrates such as jellyfish. The team from National University of Singapore Materials Science and Engineering was led by Assistant Professor Benjamin Tee and had collaboration from Tsinghua University, China, and the University of California Riverside.
The touch-sensitive, stretchable, transparent material also has self-healing abilities in watery environments, according to an article in Printed Electronics World. Tee has been working on electronic skin for years and was part of the team that developed self-healing electronic skin sensors in 2012. The material is based on a mix of fluorocarbon-based polymer and fluorine-rich ionic liquid. Highly reversible ion-dipole interactions cause the polymer network to interact with the liquid and result in self-healing properties.
The team found that the material will retain its shape in wet and dry surroundings and works in seawater and other environments, either alkaline or acid. The skin material is 3D printed into electronic circuits. Because of its soft, stretchable nature, the material’s electrical properties change when strained, pressed or touched, the article reported.
“The 3D printability of our material also shows potential in creating fully transparent circuit boards that could be used in robotic applications,” Tee said. “. . . Soft robots and soft electronics in general, aim to mimic biological tissues to make them more mechanically compliant for human-machine interactions. In addition . . . this novel material’s waterproof technology enables the design of amphibious robots and water-resistant electronics.”
The scientists envision applications for a range of products, from aquatic soft robots to water-resistant touchscreens. “The self-healing electronic skin has the potential to reduce waste,” Tee added. “Millions of tons of electronic waste from broken mobile phones and tablets, among others, are generated globally every year. The team hopes to create a future where electronic devices made from intelligent materials can perform self-repair functions to reduce the amount of electronic waste in the world.”