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Japanese boffins build 'robotic skin'

Bendy circuits thinner than cling film

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Japanese boffins have taken the wraps off what they claim to be the world’s thinnest and lightest electronic circuits, potentially paving the way for wearable healthcare applications and even “robotic skin” in the future.

Tokyo University researchers Takao Someya and Tsuyoshi Sekitani have been running the government sponsored Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology (ERATO) program alongside a group from Johannes Kepler University (JKU) in Austria.

The ultrathin integrated circuits they produced are thinner than cling-film and, because manufacturing costs are low, could be as common as the ubiquitous household item in the future, according to a research paper published in Nature last week.

They go on to explain the discovery as follows:

Fabricated directly on ultrathin (1 μm) polymer foils, our electronic circuits are light (3 g m−2) and ultraflexible and conform to their ambient, dynamic environment. Organic transistors with an ultra-dense oxide gate dielectric a few nanometres thick formed at room temperature enable sophisticated large-area electronic foils with unprecedented mechanical and environmental stability: they withstand repeated bending to radii of 5 μm and less, can be crumpled like paper, accommodate stretching up to 230 per cent on pre-strained elastomers, and can be operated at high temperatures and in aqueous environments.

Japanese technology site DigInfo TV has a handy video showing the ultrathin circuits in action, on a prototype touch sensor.

"The new flexible touch sensor is the world's thinnest, lightest and people cannot feel the existence of this device,” Tokyo University professor Someya told the site.

“I believe this development will open up a wide range of new applications, from health monitoring systems, wearable medical instruments, and even robotic skins in the future." ®

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