Technology with attitude

E-Skin Detects and Responds to Touch, First Step in Creating Wearable Computers

Optical image of flexible and stretchable thin film transistor array covering a baseball shows the mechanical robustness of this backplane material for future plastic electronic devices.
Optical image of flexible and stretchable thin film transistor array covering a baseball shows the mechanical robustness of this backplane material for future plastic electronic devices.

Imprinting electronic circuitry on backplanes that are both flexible and stretchable promises to revolutionize a number of industries and make “smart devices” nearly ubiquitous. After that bionic temporary tattoo, now an early prototype of the electronic skin is coming from the labs of the California University.

Berkeley Lab researchers have developed a promising new inexpensive technique for fabricating large-scale flexible and stretchable circuit boards using semiconductor-enriched carbon nanotube solutions. To demonstrate the utility of their backplanes, the researchers constructed a flexible and stretchable artificial electronic skin (e-skin) capable of detecting and responding to touch.

In the future the device might be functioning as an intelligent bandage that tells a doctor when it needs changing, or if the wound is infected. Or it can be a pacemaker that is a piece of electronic skin that wraps around the heart. An intelligent label could tell us if food is spoiled, and flexible solar cells could turn any surface, e.g. your car into a power source.

(From left) Kuniharu Takei, Toshitake Takahashi and Ali Javey at the microscope electric probe station used to characterize flexible and stretchable backplanes for e-skin and other electronic devices. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt, Berkeley Lab)
(From left) Kuniharu Takei, Toshitake Takahashi and Ali Javey at the microscope electric probe station used to characterize flexible and stretchable backplanes for e-skin and other electronic devices.Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt, Berkeley Lab

“This technology, in combination with inkjet printing of metal contacts, should provide lithography-free fabrication of low-cost flexible and stretchable electronics in the future.” says Ali Javey, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California.

For much more information about this project, visit newscenter.lbl.gov.

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