Stretchable electronics that can function as an artificial skin allow a robotic hand to translate sign language or sense whether it’s picking up a hot or cold drink.
The new material is inherently stretchy, unlike many flexible conductors and semiconductors that embed nonstretchy components in a deformable matrix, says Cunjiang Yu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Univ. of Houston. “We created a rubber semiconductor, so that is kind of a novelty in terms of materials,” says Yu.
The researchers were interested in stretchability for applications like wearable devices, not just robotics. Many flexible electronics can flex and bend, Yu says, but not as many can stretch. The way humans walk and move is dynamic. “We’re moving our arms and legs — that deformation requires the devices not just to be flexible, but also very stretchy,” says Yu.
Most electronic materials, of course, are not particularly elastic. To develop their new composite, Yu and his colleagues turned to a unique combination of commercially available materials. They began with a conductor — silver nanowires coated with gold nanoparticles. They...
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