Electronic skin

Electronic skin refers to flexible, stretchable and self-healing electronics that are able to mimic functionalities of human or animal skin. The broad class of materials often contain sensing abilities that are intended to reproduce the capabilities of human skin to respond to environmental factors such as changes in heat and pressure.

Self-healing abilities of electronic skin are critical to potential applications of electronic skin in fields such as soft robotics. Proper design of self-healing electronic skin requires not only healing of the base substrate but also the reestablishment of any sensing functions such as tactile sensing or electrical conductivity.

Ideally, the self-healing process of electronic skin does not rely upon outside stimulation such as increased temperature, pressure, or solvation. Self-healing, or rehealable, electronic skin is often achieved through a polymer-based material or a hybrid material.

The ability of electronic skin to withstand mechanical deformation including stretching and flexing without losing functionality is crucial for its applications as prosthetics, artificial intelligence, soft robotics, health monitoring, biocompatibility, and communication devices. Flexible electronics are often designed by depositing electronic materials on flexible polymer substrates, thereby relying on an organic substrate to impart favorable mechanical propertie

The development of conductive electronic skin is of interest for many electrical applications. Research into conductive electronic skin has taken two routes: conductive self-healing polymers or embedding conductive inorganic materials in non-conductive polymer networks.

Some of the challenges that face electronic skin sensing abilities include the fragility of sensors, the recovery time of sensors, repeatability, overcoming mechanical strain, and long-term stability.

Advances in electronic skin research focuses on designing materials that are stretchy, robust, and flexible. Research in the individual fields of flexible electronics and tactile sensing has progressed greatly; however, electronic skin design attempts to bring together advances in many areas of materials research without sacrificing individual benefits from each field.

The successful combination of flexible and stretchable mechanical properties with sensors and the ability to self-heal would open the door to many possible applications including soft robotics, prosthetics, artificial intelligence and health monitoring.

As one of the main challenges facing electronic skin development is the ability of the material to withstand mechanical strain and maintain sensing ability or electronic properties, recyclability and self-healing properties are especially critical in the future design of new electronic skins.

Some of the challenges that face electronic skin sensing abilities include the fragility of sensors, the recovery time of sensors, repeatability, overcoming mechanical strain, and long-term stability.

Applied pressure can be measured by monitoring changes in resistance or capacitance. Coplanar interdigitated electrodes embedded on single-layer graphene have been shown to provide pressure sensitivity for applied pressure as low as 0.11 kPa through measuring changes in capacitance. Piezoresistive sensors have also shown high levels of sensitivity.

Humidity sensors have been incorporated in electronic skin design with sulfurized tungsten films. The conductivity of the film changes with different levels of humidity. Silicon nanoribbons have also been studied for their application as temperature, pressure, and humidity sensors.

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