The latest research group to publish their work is at the University of Houston. A team there, led by Cunjiang Yu, has developed a composite of rubber and semiconductors that can be stretched by up to 50 percent without damaging its electronic components.
Hot and cold
Normally, semiconductors are brittle and so using them in stretchable materials means creating complicated mechanical systems. This is the first work, the team claims, that embeds semiconductors in a stretchable material without any special mechanical structure.
In testing, the team showed that their skin could allow a robotic hand to sense the temperature of hot and iced water in a cup, and then perform the signals for hot and cold in American Sign Language.
“The robotic skin can translate the gesture to readable letters that a person like me can understand and read,” Yu said.
Beyond Robotic Hands
It's hoped that the system could be used beyond robotic hands too - perhaps in health monitors, medical implants and human-machine interfaces.
"We foresee that this strategy of enabling elastomeric semiconductors by percolating semiconductor nanofibrils into a rubber will advance the development of stretchable semiconductors," the team wrote in a (opens in new tab) published in the journal Science Advances.
"It will move forward the advancement of stretchable electronics for a wide range of applications, such as artificial skins, biomedical implants and surgical gloves."