Scientists from Cornell University have designed an incredibly elastic electroluminescent display that could pave the way for innovative mood-sensitive robots. The versatile “skin”, according to the researchers, is capable of displaying patient’s pulse and temperature, while also reacting to his or her mood. The breakthrough, the team believes, could result in significant advances in the fields of healthcare, electronic communication, high-tech transportation and so on.
Recently published in the Science journal, the research, titled “Highly Stretchable Electroluminescent Skin for Optical Signaling and Tactile Sensing” focuses on the development of an autonomous robot equipped with unique information display interface, which functions according to the wearer’s needs. Created by a group of Cornell students, headed by professor Rob Shepherd, the newly-built electroluminescent skin can be stretched to six times its initial size, while continuing to emanate light. Speaking about the discovery, Shepherd, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at Cornell, said:
This material can stretch with the body of a soft robot, and that’s what our group does. It allows robots to change their color, and it also allows displays to change their shape.
Dubbed as the “hyper-elastic light-emitting capacitor (HLEC)”, the new robot can withstand more than twice the strain as commonly-available stretchable displays. As the scientists point out, it features multiple layers of transparent hydrogel-based electrodes, which in turn sandwich an insulating dielectric elastomer layer in between them. Deformation, such as stretching and rolling, alters the skin’s luminance as well as its capacity to store energy (also known as capacitance). Shepherd added:
We can take these pixels that change color and put them on these robots, and now we have the ability to change their color. Why is that important? For one thing, when robots become more and more a part of our lives, the ability for them to have emotional connection with us will be important. So to be able to change their color in response to mood or the tone of the room we believe is going to be important for human-robot interactions.
The robotic skin can emit bright light when stretched to 480-percent its actual length. What is more, the newly-developed technology can be easily integrated into miniature robotic systems. For the project, the team used three six-layered panels of the HLEC to create a tiny, crawling robot, featuring a luminescent skin made up of the top four layers and special pneumatic actuators formed using the bottom two layers. According to the researchers, alternate inflation and deflation of the constituent chambers caused the robot to exhibit a “walking” movement of sorts.
The breakthrough, the team believes, could pave the way for soft electronics. At present, wearable technology involves the integration of hard pieces of electronics into an otherwise soft base, like in the case of Fitbit of Apple’s smartwatch. The electroluminescent skin, however, could lead to the development of flexible wearables that easily conform to the user’s body. Chris Larson, one of the four graduate students working on the project, said:
You could have a rubber band that goes around your arm that also displays information. You could be in a meeting and have a rubber band-like device on your arm and could be checking your email. That’s obviously in the future, but that’s the direction we’re looking in.
Source: Cornell University