We’ve seen lots of amazing concepts for flexible gadgets in recent years – from Samsung’s bendy smartphone to e-newspapers that you can roll up. However researchers at Berkeley Lab are taking the technology to the next level by imprinting electronic circuitry on backplanes that are both flexible and stretchable – essentially creating a new type of electronic skin.
Flexible computers could revolutionize a number of industries and make current “smart devices” seem chunky and antique. The Lawrence Berkeley Lab team’s research could lead to a world populated with electronic pads that could be folded away like paper, coatings that would be able to monitor surfaces for cracks, and ‘smart’ medical bandages that could treat infections.
The team developed a thin-film transistor with superb electrical properties by using a new, inexpensive technique for fabricating large-scale flexible and stretchable backplanes using semiconductor-enriched carbon nanotube solutions. The device is capable of carrying a charge much higher than its organic counterparts, and the team has already demonstrated an artificial electronic skin (e-skin) that is able to detect and respond to touch.
“With our solution-based processing technology, we have produced mechanically flexible and stretchable active-matrix backplanes, based on fully passivated and highly uniform arrays of thin film transistors made from single walled carbon nanotubes that evenly cover areas of approximately 56 square centimeters,” says Ali Javey, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at tBerkeley. “This technology, in combination with inkjet printing of metal contacts, should provide lithography-free fabrication of low-cost flexible and stretchable electronics in the future.”
The development could lead to a whole new category of flexible gadgets – we can’t wait to see iPads that can be wrapped around our arms. For now, team’s research can be read in the journal NanoLetters in an article titled “Carbon Nanotube Active-Matrix Backplanes for Conformal Electronics and Sensors.”