Purdue University researchers have developed a technique that could be used to produce "soft machines" made of elastic materials and liquid metals. The researchers say the technology could be used for robots that have sensory skin or stretchable garments that consumers could wear to interact with computers.
The technique involves the use of a custom-built three-dimensional printer. The researchers embedded liquid-alloy devices into polydimethylsiloxane, a silicon-based elastomer. They also used liquid gallium-indium alloy to create patterns of lines to form a network of sensors.
"Gallium oxidizes really quickly and forms a thick gallium-oxide skin, which is challenging to work with using typical liquid-processing techniques," says Purdue professor Rebecca Kramer. However, she says the researchers developed a method that utilizes the alloy's oxidized skin for structural stability, which enables the electronics to be embedded in elastomer without ruining or altering the printed structures during the processing steps.
"While this is a huge step forward, we need to continue to decrease scale and increase density to develop sensors and electronics that are comparable to traditional, rigid devices and that mimic the functionality of human skin," Kramer says.
From Purdue University News
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