Not many of you may know but in the 70s and 80s, kids dreamed of living in a future populated by the likes of Cybermen from Doctor Who and Darth Vader from Star Wars — superhuman cyborgs who were an upgrade of the inefficient human beings. And now it seems like that future is soon going to turn into the reality of today.
Scientists, for the first time, have developed an electronic skin that is not only capable of mimicking the function and mechanical properties of human skin but can also be recycled. The ‘e-skin’ is a thin, translucent film that is equipped with sensors that measure pressure, temperature, humidity and air flow. The skin is made of a dynamic network polymer called ‘polyimine’, which is laced with silver nanoparticles to increase the skin’s mechanical strength and electrical conductivity.
When the skin is cut, the chemical bonds reform in order to ‘heal the wound’ and restore the e-skin. If the skin gets damaged beyond repair, it can be soaked in a solution that dissolves the material so that it can be reused again to make a new skin.
Jianliang Xiao from the University of Colorado, Boulder said,
“Given the millions of tons of electronic waste generated worldwide every year, the recyclability of our e-skin makes good economic and environmental sense.”
Upon applying moderate heat, the skin moulds itself to conform to curved surfaces like human hands or robotic arms.
So, are you ready to wear a respirator and declare “Luke, I am your father” like Vader? Well, hold your horses! Scientists are nowhere close to being interested in creating antagonists, rather, they hope the e-skin is used in robotics, prosthetics and smart textiles.
Several other types of e-skin are also being developed. The electronic skin developed at Helmholtz-Zentrum-Dresden-Rossendorf Institute, Germany lets you type on a keypad without actually touching it while one created by Japanese startup Xenoma turns your torso into a motion controller for playing games. We cannot wait for this particular milestone of technological innovation!