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Paper-thin e-skin lights up when touched

Posted: 23 Jul 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:University of California  Berkeley  e-skin  transistor  organic LED 

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed "the first user-interactive sensor network on flexible plastic."

The new electronic skin, or e-skin, responds to touch by instantly lighting up. The more intense the pressure, the brighter the light it emits.

"We are not just making devices; we are building systems," said Ali Javey, UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, who also led the research project. "With the interactive e-skin, we have demonstrated an elegant system on plastic that can be wrapped around different objects to enable a new form of human-machine interfacing."

Unlike the stiff touchscreens on iPhones, computer monitors, and ATMs, the e-skin is flexible and can be easily laminated on any surface, the researchers said.

The new e-skin technology, besides giving robots a finer sense of touch, could also be used to create things like wallpapers that double as touchscreen displays and dashboard laminates that allow drivers to adjust electronic controls with the wave of a hand.

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Shown is a fully fabricated 16x16 pixel e-skin that lights up when touched.

"I could also imagine an e-skin bandage applied to an arm as a health monitor that continuously checks blood pressure and pulse rates," said study co-lead author Chuan Wang, who conducted the work as a post-doctoral researcher in Javey's lab at UC Berkeley.

The experimental samples of the latest e-skin measure 16-by-16 pixels. Within each pixel sits a transistor, an organic LED and a pressure sensor.

To create the pliable e-skin, the engineers cured a thin layer of polymer on top of a silicon wafer. Once the plastic hardened, they could run the material through fabrication tools already in use in the semiconductor industry to layer on the electronic components. After the electronics were stacked, they simply peeled off the plastic from the silicon base, leaving a freestanding film with a sensor network embedded in it.

"The electronic components are all vertically integrated, which is a fairly sophisticated system to put onto a relatively cheap piece of plastic. What makes this technology potentially easy to commercialise is that the process meshes well with existing semiconductor machinery."

The researchers are now in the process of engineering the e-skin sensors to respond to temperature and light as well as pressure.

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