Wearable technologies could be transformed with a new type of artificial material that can mimic the properties of skin from sensing touch to even being self-healing.
It is thought that the device could be used in prosthetics, which would improve on current designs that are heavy, easily damaged and cause difficulty in sensing touch in the wearer.
The international team of researchers created a patch using semi-conducting polymers, which are similar to manmade plastic in that they are flexible and can be stretched.
The research was carried out over two years at Stanford University in California, USA and is published in the journal Nature.
Co-author Dr Bob C. Schroeder, who is now based at the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, assisted with the design and synthesis of the new semi-conducting polymer.
He commented: “Our research shows for the first time that it is possible to combine the electric properties of organic semiconductors with the stretchability and healing capabilities of skin.”
The prototype skin showed the ability to heal itself after being mechanically damaged. However, the healing is not yet autonomous and occurs only once the material has been exposed to heat or solvent vapour of chloroform.The researchers are working on improving the design and are investigating whether alternative, less toxic solvents could spark the healing process.
The work could also have an implications for flexible displays like touch screens in smartphones and TVs.
Continuing his research at SBCS, Dr Schroeder is developing new materials to power diagnostic sensors using body heat for healthcare monitoring.