Electronic skin is necessary for a wide variety of applications in today’s world, like touchscreens and soft robots, which are much more flexible and versatile than traditional robots made from hard materials. At the National University of Singapore, a team of innovative scientists designed an extraordinary new type of electronic skin inspired by the jellyfish.
The jellyfish is one of nature’s most pliable creatures, but it’s also strong and able to heal itself by regenerating cells. Scientists kept those traits in mind when they built their new electronic skin, which they call GLASSES. This stands for “gel-like, aquatic, stretchable, self-healing electronic skin.” Unlike other gels of its kind, this one continues to function and keep its shape in wet environments, even ones that are acidic or salty. If it’s torn, it can heal itself in just a few days. The other cool thing? It responds to all kinds of touching and stretching, changing its electrical properties. This makes it ideal for technology that requires touch-based sensors, like touch screens on your smartphone and tablets.
This is not the first example of electronic skin. In February of 2018, a team at the University of Colorado developed skin containing a new polymer laced with silver nanoparticles, making it stronger and more stable. The skin could also be recycled in a special solution, separating out the compounds to be reused again later. This new skin from Singapore stands apart from other examples, however, because of its abilities in wet environments.
Why is electronic skin useful? It could be used to build soft robots that explore underwater environments, as well as water-resistant electronics and upgraded prosthetics. GLASSES has the potential to mimic the touch-sensing of biological tissue. The closer the skin is able to mimic real skin, the better. The fact that the skin heals itself is also important, since when most electronics break, they have to be recycled or tossed. Most aren’t recycled properly, which leads to a lot of waste. With self-healing skin, lots of electronics could simply repair themselves, significantly reducing waste.