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Berkeley Lab Develops a Cheap E-Skin

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 09:37AM

The ability to imprint electronics on flexible backplanes will allow for a myriad of advances, including films for detecting cracks in a surface, bandages that can treat infections, and improved solar cells, to name a few. While this is already possible, the technology involved is prohibitively expensive, but researchers at Berkeley Lab have developed a new backplane with networks of thin film transistors that can be fabricated on a large scale.

The key to this discovery was a tweaking of the carbon nanotube mixture involved. There are different flavors of carbon nanotubes, such as semiconductor and metallic, and a solution of them normally is two-thirds semiconductor and one-third metallic. This recipe though has a low on/off ratio, and the smaller the ratio the easier it is for an off transistor to be misread as on. By using an enriched solution of 99% semiconductor nanotubes, the on/off ratio was increased to roughly 100.

The researchers proceeded to make an electronic skin with their new backplane. By strategically placing holes in the material, the material was made both flexible and stretchable. The amount the material could stretch was directly related to the side length of the holes, so future backplanes made like this can be designed to only give in certain directions. Keeping it simple, the eskin only acts as a pressure sensor, with 96 pixels. Additional sensors can be added in the future though, to expand the technology.

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