Researchers develop electronic skin material that can be easily commercialized

mass produced electronic skin nano korea
Sam Yoon/Korea University
The concept of an electronic skin capable of carrying information and sensing your environment is nothing new; many researchers are working on this type of cutting-edge wearable. The biggest hindrance to the commercialization of such materials is their production process — many of these prototypes take time to fabricate and use expensive components. An international team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Korea University may have overcome this stumbling block by developing a breakthrough process that allows them to produce an e-skin in just a few minutes using a commercially viable process.

Like most electronic skin materials, the ultra-thin film is transparent and highly conductive. Described as a “self-junction copper nano-chicken wire,” the e-skin material is a tangled nanofiber mat of polyacrylonitrile (PAN). The fibers of this material are very thin, measuring one-hundredth the diameter of a strand of human hair. “The fiber shoots out like a rapidly coiling noodle, which when deposited onto a surface intersects itself a million times,” said UIC professor and study co-author Alexander Yarin in a prepared statement.

Related: MIT researcher’s artificial skin will make you look 10 years younger

This electrospinning process creates a fibrous material that is very lightweight and transparent. It also allows it to be flexible and durable. The film can retain these properties even after repeated bending and stretching, making it ideal for wearables, roll-up touchscreen displays, and more.

Once the PAN fibers have been spun, they are ready for the next phase of manufacturing that adds conductivity to the otherwise electrically inert material. The researchers first spatter-coat the fiber with metal that will attract metal ions, and then electroplate it with copper (or silver, nickel, or gold). The resulting film has a “world-record combination of high transparency and low electrical resistance” that is ten times greater than the existing record, claims Korea University professor Sam Yoon. The conductive skin also can be applied to any surface, including skin, glass, and more.

The biggest advantage to this electric skin is how it is made. The two processes used to make it — electroplating and electrospinning — are standard manufacturing techniques. Each step uses existing materials and only takes a few moments to complete. These factors make it possible to scale the production of the material rapidly and efficiently. Both the discovery and development of this electronic skin was described in the June 13 issue of Advanced Materials.

Computing

There’s now proof that quantum computing is superior to the classical variety

For the first time in computer science history, researchers have tangibly demonstrated how a quantum computer is better than a classical computer. A quantum computer was able to solve a math problem that a classical PC cannot.
Emerging Tech

Scientists created a condom that self-lubricates during sex. You’re welcome

Researchers from Boston University have invented a special coating for condoms which make them respond to bodily fluids by becoming more slippery. Here's how their new breakthrough works.
Emerging Tech

Japanese scientists are chewing over an ‘electric gum’ that never loses flavor

Researchers at Japan's Meiji University may have found the secret to unlimited chewing gum -- and it just involves zapping your tongue with electricity. Here's what makes it all work.
Emerging Tech

Regular paints and plastics will soon be able to ‘heal’ like skin

Imagine if paints, plastics, or other coatings could heal up like human skin in the event that they suffered damage. Thanks to researchers at Clemson University, such technology is almost here.
Emerging Tech

Keep your holiday gift list high tech and under budget with these gadgets

Modern technology doesn't always come cheap, but there plenty of premium devices that don't carry a premium price. Whether you're looking for a streaming device or a means of capturing photos from above, our list of the best tech under $50…
Emerging Tech

When tech goes wrong: Banksy’s shredder was meant to totally destroy his artwork

Banksy's recent auction stunt was meant to totally destroy one of his most famous pieces of work, but a fault with the shredder has left the buyer with something almost certainly worth far more than the $1 million she bid for it.
Emerging Tech

Death from above? How we’re preparing for a future filled with weaponized drones

Drones are beginning to enable everything from search & rescue, to the delivery of medicines to hard-to-reach places. But they are also being used as cheap, and deadly flying bombs. How can we defend ourselves?
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

A Fitbit for your cat shit: Automatic litter box tracks your kitty’s health

It may look like a sci-fi teleportation chamber, but Footloose is a high-tech litter box that promises to be the most cutting-edge way for your kitty to take a dump. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

This 3D-printed house made of earth and rice husks costs less than an iPhone

Italian 3D-printing company WASP has just demonstrated the 3D printing of a hut structure using a combination of 3D-printed concrete and a mud-based material. All for around $1,000.
Emerging Tech

Scientists want to bore holes through clouds using lasers from satellites

Researchers at the University of Geneva in Switzerland have proposed a plan to use ultra-hot and ultra-short laser beams to punch through cloud layers and transmit information from satellites to Earth.
Emerging Tech

Behind the unsettling sci-fi landscapes of Simon Stalenhag’s ‘Electric State’

The narrative artbook follows the journey of a young traveler, Michelle, and her robot, Skip, as they head west to the Pacific coast through an alternative America torn apart by civil war and the trappings of military-grade virtual reality.
Emerging Tech

Get your head in the clouds with the best vaporizers for flower and concentrates

Why combust dead plant matter when you could vaporize the good stuff and leave the leaves behind? Here's a rundown of the best vaporizers money can buy, no matter what your style is.
Emerging Tech

Get one of the best cheap drones you can buy, and cry less when you crash

Want to get in on all this hot drone action, but don't want to spend half a paycheck to make it happen? There are actually lots of feature-packed budget options. Check out this list of the best drones under $500.