Scientists at Stanford University have created a way to produce thin, stretchable electronic circuits that feature incredibly sensitive pressure sensors. These electronics can one day be wrapped around prosthetic hands to provide a sense of touch or to create wearable electronics for long term body sensing, among many other possible applications. The team’s devices are so sensitive that they can detect the footsteps of a ladybug as it crawls across them.
The team also developed a mass production method, which involves an inkjet printer to draw out the circuits, to stamp out these polymer-based electronics relatively easily and quickly. There are a few layers of recently developed polymers sandwiched together, some of which are particularly flexible, while others carry meshes of wires within them for electrical connectivity, and yet others act as insulators.
The researchers’ most advanced devices consisted of upward of 6,000 signal processors that behave as touch sensors, all within a two by two inch square. It’s stretchable in any direction to twice its relaxed size while continuing to function normally, even after one thousand repeat stretches.
Trying out the technology on a human, the team was able to laminate it on a palm and have it continue working even as the hand was squeezed and relaxed.