Researchers from Osaka University, the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research, and Chemnitz University of Technology have published a paper demonstrating what they describe as the first fully-integrated flexible electronics to include a mixture of magnetic sensors and organic circuits — and lay the path, they claim, to the development of electronic skin.
"Artificial electronic skins (e-skins) comprise an integrated matrix of flexible devices arranged on a soft, reconfigurable surface. These sensors must perceive physical interaction spaces between external objects and robots or humans," the researchers explain in the abstract to their paper. "Among various types of sensors, flexible magnetic sensors and the matrix configuration are preferable for such position sensing. However, sensor matrices must efficiently map the magnetic field with real-time encoding of the positions and motions of magnetic objects."
Previous attempts to create exactly that have typically suffered from an excess of wiring, in order to individual address single sensors in a flexible array. The researcher's approach, however, resolves the problem: They have created a 2x4 array of magnetic sensors along with a bootstrap shift register and signal amplifiers based on organic thin-film transistors — giving the circuit considerable robustness against the sort of bending, creasing, and kinking that skin could be expected to undergo.
"Our first integrated magnetic functionalities prove that thin-film flexible magnetic sensors can be integrated within complex organic circuits," explain Professor Dr. Oliver G Schmidt and Dr. Daniil Karnaushenko, co-authors of the paper. "[The] Ultra-compliant and flexible nature of these devices is indispensable feature for modern and future applications such as soft-robotics, implants and prosthetics. The next step is to increase the number of sensors per surface area as well as to expand the electronic skin to fit larger surfaces."
The team's work has been published in the journal Science Advances under open access terms.