Newly-developed ink makes it possible to print stretchy circuits onto fabrics

new ink can print stretchy circuits on fabric screen shot 2015 06 29 at 2 18 44 pm
Stretchy electronics are on a roll lately. Last week we ran a story on a new flexible conductor developed by researchers at the North Carolina State University, and now, in yet another exciting development, researchers from the University of Tokyo have developed a technology that could turn clothes and textiles into flexible, comfortable electronics.

Rather than creating a new material altogether, the researchers developed a metallic ink that can be printed onto the surface of textiles to create flexible electronics or conductors. A press release by the university mentions that once the ink is printed to the surface of a textile, it doesn’t lose its conductivity — even when stretched to more than three times its original length. The researchers believe that the technology could be used in the development of flexible sensors, which could then be integrated into clothing and sportswear, paving the way for comfortable wearable electronics.

It might not sound particularly complicated at first, but developing stretchable electronics is a complicated endeavor. The problem is that, when you’re working with conductive materials, there’s trade-off between their mechanical and electrical characteristics. When you increase the conductive filler (aka, metals) in the material to achieve higher electrical conductivity, it also increases the stiffness of the material, which thereby diminishes the stretchability of it, and limits its potential applications.

But the University of Tokyo team has figured out a solution. To develop this ink, the researchers put together a mixture of silver flakes, organic solvent, fluorine rubber, and fluorine surfactant. The resulting ink can be applied to the surface of a textile, similar to how an office printer deposits ink onto a piece of paper.

Creating a flexible conductor with this solution requires just one step – printing the ink onto the surface of the textile. Once the ink has been applied to the surface of a textile, the silver flakes automatically assemble themselves, and cause material to become highly conductive.

In order to demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach, the researchers used their ink to print a muscle activity sensor onto a stretchable cloth. While the electrodes were printed on both sides of the material, the wiring was printed only on the external side. When it was all said and done, the wrist-borne muscle activity sensor printed from this method was able to measure the electrical potential of the muscle beneath it over an area of 2.5 square inches.

The researchers believe that their technique will make wearable devices more comfortable and widespread. If that works out, pretty soon all these clunky wristbands, clips, and patches will seem archaic.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Wearables

The best Apple Watch bands and straps to stylize your timepiece

If you have an Apple Watch, you know how easy it is to take off the strap it came with, so why not buy yourself another one? Here, we've gathered the best Apple Watch bands we've seen so far. There's something for everyone.
Health & Fitness

In search of the fountain of youth, beauty companies turn to tech

Beauty tech is a fairly new concept, but at CES 2019, companies such as Olay, L’Oreal, and Neutrogena were fully embracing it with all kinds of gadgets that promise to give you glowing skin.
Emerging Tech

Water-based fuel cell converts carbon emissions to electricity

Scientists from Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology have developed a system which can continuously produce electrical energy and hydrogen by dissolving carbon dioxide in an aqueous solution.
Emerging Tech

Scientists investigate how massive stars die in dramatic hypernova events

Our Sun will gradually fade before expanding into a red giant at the end of its life. But larger mass stars undergo extreme explosive events called hypernovas when they die which outshine their entire galaxies.
Emerging Tech

Pilotless planes are on their way, but would you fly in one?

Airbus says advancements in artificial intelligence can help it toward its goal of building a plane capable of fully autonomous flight, though whether passengers can be persuaded to travel in one is another matter entirely.
Emerging Tech

‘Tech vest’ prevents Amazon workers from colliding with robot co-workers

Amazon workers at its fulfillment centers are using "tech vests" to help protect them from collisions with their robot co-workers. The robots already have obstacle avoidance sensors, but the belt offers another layer of safety.
Emerging Tech

3D printers are finally affordable. Here are the best models under $500

3D printer prices have dropped dramatically over the past few years, but just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it’s worth buying. Here, we’ve rounded up all the cheap 3D printers that are actually worth spending your money on.
Mobile

T-Mobile 5G rollout: Here is everything you need to know

2019 will be a huge year for T-Mobile. Not only is a merger with Sprint likely, but T-Mobile is also in the midst of building out its next-generation mobile service. Here's everything you need to know about the T-Mobile 5G rollout.
Emerging Tech

ANYmal dog robot can get back on its feet when someone pushes it over

Roboticists at ETH Zurich have demonstrated how their ANYmal four-legged robot is capable of taking a kicking and keeping on walking -- or getting back to its feet if it's pushed over.
Emerging Tech

A.I. finds non-infringing ways to copy drugs pharma spends billions developing

Researchers have demonstrated an artificial intelligence which can find new methods for producing existing pharmaceuticals in a way that doesn’t infringe on existing patents. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Coinstar machines will let you swap cash for Bitcoin at your local grocery store

Coinstar, the company which owns the coin exchange machines found at grocery stores and elsewhere, will soon let you easily buy Bitcoin with your cash money. Here's how it will work.
Emerging Tech

Facebook hasn’t given up on the idea of building an internet drone

Facebook's efforts to provide internet connectivity from the skies using solar-powered drones suffered a blow last year when the company abandoned its "Aquila" drone project. But the company clearly hasn't given up on the idea.
Emerging Tech

World’s biggest fleet of campus delivery robots now transporting student meals

The world’s largest fleet of delivery robots on a university campus is coming to Fairfax County, Virginia’s George Mason University. Here's how the ordering and delivery process plays out.