Innovation has become a focal point in the electronic skin industry as researchers and scientists have been developing innovative products and materials. With development of electronic skin for the tasks requiring greater dexterity to charging devices with human sweat-eating bacteria, the innovation has no bounds.
Researchers have been developing new materials that can withstand different environmental conditions and control the temperature of the body.
A sensor has been developed to track different factors of human body and can be used in many healthcare applications. The industry for electronic skin is booming with new products and materials.
According to a report published by Allied Market Research, the global electronic skin market is expected to reach $1.71 billion by 2025.
With a rapid pace of research and development activities, the industry is expected to undergo a transformation in near future. Following are some of the activities shaping the industry:
Wootzkin to give feedback on temperature, pressure, and other factors:
As robots have been used for a number of applications including handling of soft fruits, an electronic skin that enables them to perform the tasks with greater dexterity is required.
An Edinburgh and Sedgefield-based firm Wootzano developed a skin known as Wootzkin. It is made up of a specially-modified elastomer that is equipped with metal electrodes spread on the top with the help of photolithography.
It can be stretched, bent, and twisted without any damage to a sensor. This skin contains piezoresistive and piezoelectric sensing capabilities. It can also be utilized for measurement of pressure and force.
Dr. Atif Syed, the Founder & CEO of Wootzano, outlined that the firm has been trying to make a skin that is similar to human skin, with which, feedback on force, temperature, pressure, and humidity can be availed.
Moreover, it can smell when it touches an object. Syed began working on this project during his PhD tenure at Edinburgh University in 2013.
He began development of this technology for usage in targeted drug delivery. He discovered that this skin can be utilized for solving many problems related to grasping the delicate objects by robots.
Along with development of skin, the firm has developed machine learning algorithms to teach robots on how to handle items. This robot can be utilized in agricultural activities for picking and packing delicate fruits and vegetables without causing any harm.
Sweat-eating bacteria to charge the electronic skin devices:
Electronic skin can play a crucial role in the healthcare sector. Researchers have been trying to develop an electronic skin that can be powered through human sweat.
Seokheun Choi, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Ahyeon Koh, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, have been endeavoring to utilize metabolisms of sweat-eating bacteria from sweat.
Choi outlined that biochemical energy from human sweat can be utilized for generating energy for skin-contacting devices.
Owing to immature technologies, this area has not been explored much. However, the research activities are gaining traction as sweat is readily available in sufficient amount and it has a rich content of chemical and biological entities that can be utilized for manufacturing electricity.
With growing interest in development of electronic skin, many breakthroughs related to human-machine interfaces are on the horizon and human sweat can become an accessible and potential power source.
The researchers have been trying to utilize the metabolisms of sweat-eating bacteria such as ammonia-oxidising microorganisms and human skin microorganisms for developing a power source for electronic skins.
Choi stated that the new batteries are based on microbial fuel cells in which chemical energy can be converted into electrical power with the help of bacterial metabolism. The sweat-generated batteries have potential to bring transformation in many sectors along with the electronic skin market.
Innovative sensor for electronic skin:
There are different fields in which scientists across the world have been working to develop the electronic skin.
Researchers at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics of Linkoping University created a sensor that can be used with electronic skin. This sensor is capable of carrying out measurement of changes taking place in body temperature and react to touch and sunlight.
They have been developing a system through a combination of different physical phenomena and materials. They have created a sensor, like human skin, that is able to determine the variation in temperature originating from the touch of an object or heat from solar rays.
Mina Shiran Chaharsoughi, a student in the Organic Photonics and Nano-optics group at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics, outlined that the team has been inspired by the nature and its method of sensing the heat.
They have developed a sensor with combination of thermoelectric and pyroelectric effects with a nano-optical phenomenon. In pyroelectric materials, the voltage rises when they are cooled or heated. There is a change in temperature that provides signal rapidly, but decays faster.
However, in thermoelectric materials, voltage rises when material has a hot and a cold side. The signal takes time to arise slowly. So, it requires one side to be colder than the other to pick up a signal.
The researchers used a combination of a pyroelectric polymer with a thermoelectric gel for gaining a rapid and strong signal to last for the duration of a stimulus. These two materials interact in a manner that reinforces the signal.
Squid skin to control the heat:
Innovative products are coming in with researchers focusing on developing a material that can respond to varying environmental conditions.
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have developed a space blanket that enables users to control the temperature. This new blanket consists of a stretchable and soft polymer matrix that has infrared-deflecting metal grids in the matrix.
Reflecting heat is essential for many aircrafts, components, electronic circuits, and clothing. Researchers have developed a squid skin, consisting of multiple layers.
One of those layers has embedded chromatophore organs, equipped with pigment granules. These cells can be switched with muscle cells in between them to expand and contract to change the wavelength of light. This is how the heat is controlled with changing environmental conditions.