Skin is the largest organ in human body, and can sense important information such as pressure, temperature and pain. This waterproof barrier protects us from infections and can heal itself. Electronic skins are soft and flexible electronics that mimic the functions of skin in one or multiple aspects, and can give robots or even prosthetic limbs the sensations of real skin. However, unlike real skin, electronics lack the ability to heal after sustaining damage, nor can they perform normal functions under water. Inspired by jellyfish, scientists from Tsinghua University and National University of Singapore developed an electronic skin material that can restore functions after sustaining damage in wet environments.

This gel-like, aquatic, stretchable, self-healing electronic skin, or ‘GLASSES’, is made from two components, a polymer and an ionic liquid, that strongly interact with each other. After cutting the material in half, the polymer can bridge across the damaged interfaces, provided there’s a small enough gap, and heal the damage. The two components are water-resistant, and thus can restore the original electrical and mechanical properties both in air and underwater. To demonstrate its basic functions as an electronic skin, the GLASSES material has been used to make touch, pressure and strain sensors.

This work represents an important step in the development of electronic skins, and may one day be used to develop aquatic soft robots that can sense the environment and are robust enough to recover from mechanical damage. Future development of this material should focus on improving the performance of the sensors and incorporating different types of electronics to match the functionalities of the real skin.

Managing Correspondent: Anqi Zhang

Original journal article: Self-healing electronic skins for aquatic environments. Nature Electronics.

Image Credit: ESFStream

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