New Electronic Skin Technology Developed to Change the Face of Prosthetic and Robotic Development
Angelica Bottaro posted on March 07, 2018 |
Human-like electronic skin technology paves a new path for biomedical devices, robotics engineering ...
A new form of electronic skin, also called e-skin, has been developed for use in prosthetic development as well as robotic and biomedical devices. Using a combination of three compounds all found in ethanol, this self-healing and recyclable material is fully malleable and equipped with specialized sensors to adapt to its environment.

Using polymer to develop the polyamine-based material, as well as silver nanoparticles, the e-skin was created to be thin, clear and wearable, and to function much like human skin.  

Unlike previous synthetic e-skin designs, this new version can be both recycled and reused because of its solubility. The skin can be soaked in a solution of ethanol, which causes the polymers to dissipate into oligomers and monomers, followed by the sinking of the nanoparticles. Each component in the solution can then be reused to form new electronic skin with the same properties and functions.

This e-skin has the ability to mold to curved surfaces, such as human arms and robotic hands, by adding heat and pressure without putting too much stress on the material. This means the e-skin will be able to help further scientific enhancements in healing and robotics engineering, particularly when it comes to the development of more lifelike robots and artificial limbs.

The main goal of the e-skin is to be able to mimic biological skin to have the same function when it comes to sensing pressure, temperature, humidity and air flow. 

To give an example of the use of the e-skin, associate professor Wei Zang said, “Let’s say you wanted a robot to take care of a baby. In that case, you would integrate e-skin on the robot fingers that can feel pressure of the baby.” 

The thought process behind the advancement is that although robotics and prosthetics have come a long way in becoming more like their life-like counterparts, the ability to adapt to sensitivity in the object being handled wasn’t up to par. These new sensors will change that, and although e-skin has been developed in the past, the weakness of the chemical bonds used created a problem area due to their lack of robust stability.

The advancement, published in the journal Science Advances, comes out of the University of Colorado Boulder, and research was led by assistant professor Jianliang Xiao and biochemistry associate professor Wei Zhang. 

As researchers recognize the value of e-skin development, more and more wearables will be developed in labs around the world. 

For more on electronic skin technology, check out Electronic Skin for Improved Prosthetics.  

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