Paper-Thin Electronic Skin That Lights up in Response to Touch Holds Promise For Sensory Robotics [VIDEO]

First Posted: Jul 22, 2013 07:22 AM EDT

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have built a novel device known as the paper thin electronic skin (e-skin) that lights up in response to touch. The more intense the pressure, brighter the light it emits.

The research team led by Ali Javey, UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, has created the first user interactive sensor network on flexible plastic.

"We are not just making devices; we are building systems," Javey said in a press statement. "With the interactive e-skin, we have demonstrated an elegant system on plastic that can be wrapped around different objects to enable a new form of human-machine interfacing."

This novel concept is built on Javey's earlier work using semiconductor nanorwire transistors that are layered above the thin rubber sheets.


Apart from helping robots become more touchy-feely, the new e-skin technology can be used to as touch screens on wallpapers and on dashboard laminates in cars to regulate electronic controls with just the wave of hand.

The newly created flexible e-skin measures 16x16 pixels in which each pixel is fitted with a transistor, a pressure sensor and an organic LED. The e-skin was created with a layer of polymer on top of silicon water. Once the plastic was hardened the researchers ran the materials through fabrication tools that were already in use in the semiconductor industry to layer on the electronic components. On stacking the electronics, the plastic was peeled off from the silicon base , leaving behind a self-supporting film that has a sensor network fixed in it.

"The electronic components are all vertically integrated, which is a fairly sophisticated system to put onto a relatively cheap piece of plastic," said Javey. "What makes this technology potentially easy to commercialize is that the process meshes well with existing semiconductor machinery."

At the moment, the team is engineering the e-skin sensors in order to respond to temperature as well as pressure.

Details of the study were published in the journal Nature Materials. 

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