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Silver Nanowire Sensors Hold Promise For Prosthetics, Robotics

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A sensor based on silver nanowires is mounted onto a thumb joint to monitor the skin strain associated with thumb flexing.

Silver nanowires can be used to create multifunctional sensors that can monitor strain, pressure, human touch, and bioelectric signals.

Credit: Shanshan Yao

Silver nanowires have been used to develop wearable, multifunctional sensors that can measure strain, pressure, human touch, and bioelectronic signals such as electrocardiograms.

North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers say the sensors are stretchable and can be mounted on curvilinear surfaces such as human skin. They note the sensors are easy and inexpensive to create.

The team placed an insulating material between two stretchable conductors, which have the ability to store electric charges. Pushing, pulling, or touching the highly conductive and elastic conductors changes the capacitance, and the sensors work by measuring the change in capacitance.

In one prototype demonstration, the team employed the sensors to monitor thumb movement, which could be used to control robotic or prosthetic devices. "The deformation involved in these movements is large, and would break a lot of other sensor devices," says NCSU professor Yong Zhu. "But our sensors can be stretched to 150 percent or more of their original length without losing functionality, so they can handle it."

Zhu says the technology "could also be used to create robotics that can 'feel' their environment, or the sensors could be incorporated into clothing to track motion or monitor an individual's health."

From NCSU News
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