We have covered the concept of electronic skin (e-skin) quite a bit, reporting on everything from e-skin that self-heals to one that feels like the real thing. However, we have yet to see any of these products become mainstream.
Will this next invention by the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) be the one to finally take e-skin from the lab to actual practical applications? KAUST researchers are reporting a novel e-skin that can mimic the strength, stretchability, and sensitivity of real human skin.
"The ideal e-skin will mimic the many natural functions of human skin, such as sensing temperature and touch, accurately and in real time," said KAUST postdoc Yichen Cai.
The introduction of 2D sensors
Why would their e-skin be different from the rest? According to the researchers, it's because of the introduction of 2D sensors.
"The landscape of skin electronics keeps shifting at a spectacular pace," explained Cai. "The emergence of 2D sensors has accelerated efforts to integrate these atomically thin, mechanically strong materials into functional, durable artificial skins."
Cai and colleague Jie Shen have now engineered a new more realistic e-skin using a hydrogel reinforced with silica nanoparticles and a 2D titanium carbide MXene bound together with nanowires.
"Hydrogels are more than 70 percent water, making them very compatible with human skin tissues," explained Shen. The resulting e-skin managed to remain intact even when stretched to 28 times its original size, could sense objects from almost 8 inches (20 centimeters) away, respond to stimuli in less than one-tenth of a second, and when used as a pressure sensor, could distinguish handwriting written upon it.
Now the researchers are claiming their novel product could be used in the collection of biological data in real-time, as well as in next-generation prosthetics, personalized medicine, soft robotics, and artificial intelligence. Will we finally see the introduction of e-skin in real-world applications?