The Breakthrough of 3D Printed Electronic Skin: A New Era of Human-Machine Interaction

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The skin is the largest human organ and boasts over 1,000 nerve endings, making it the largest sensory connection to our environment. Its intricacy and interaction with our surroundings make it a challenging organ to replicate, including through 3D printing. Yet, researchers at Texas A&M University have now developed a 3D printed electronic skin, or e-skin, which they claim can flex, stretch, and sense just like human skin. They hope it will be a major breakthrough for future human-machine interactions.

Despite sounding like pulp fiction, this 3D printed e-skin is a reality created through the use of hydrogels and 3D printing. The e-skin also holds great significance for various applications, including assisting individuals with disabilities.

According to Dr. Akhilesh Gaharwar, a professor at Texas A&M’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, “The ability to replicate the sense of touch and integrate it into various technologies opens up new possibilities for human-machine interaction and advanced sensory experiences.” He further adds, “The idea behind developing E-skin is to create a more versatile interface between technology, human body, and the environment. This research holds exciting potential applications in robotics, prosthetics, wearable technology, sports and fitness, security systems, and entertainment devices.”

The researchers further incline towards the possibility of integrating this technology in wearable health devices, which could continuously monitor vital signs, provide user feedback, and even assist in improving motor skills and coordination.

This breakthrough is expected to impact many industries, including wearable electronics, such as the smartwatches seen here. Thanks to this 3D printed electronic skin, vital signs will be even more accurate.

Making the 3D Printed Electronic Skin

But what exactly makes this skin special? Well, for one, it has significantly improved upon previous projects when it comes to stiffness. The researchers accomplished this by using 3D printing and bioengineered hydrogels that are able to exhibit tunable electronic and thermal biosensing capabilities. Thus allowing them to create an e-skin that is as flexible as human skin, contains bioelectrical sensing capabilities and can be made with fabrication techniques suitable for wearable or implantable devices.

To overcome issues with stiffness specifically, the researchers used the hydrogels’ ability to decrease viscosity under shear stress during the 3D printed electronic skin creation, making it easier to handle and manipulate. This then eased construction of 2D and 3D electronic structures, allowing them to better replicate the nature of human skins, according to the press release from Texas A&M. Although, the team does not go into detail about what 3D printing technology is used, but it is probably extrusion given that that has been used in similar projects in the past.

Moreover, they utilized a substance featuring atomic structure imperfections, which facilitated high electrical conductivity and allowed nanoparticles to help the E-skin adhere to wet tissues. The nanoparticles specifically interact with the hydrogel in a way that gives the 3D printed electronic skin both electrical and thermal conductivity. Dr. Shounak Roy, a previous Fulbright Nehru doctoral fellow in Gaharwar’s Lab and a lead author of the study alongside Dr. Kaivalya Deo, explained:

“We are the first to use [nanoparticles] as the main ingredient. The material’s capacity to stick to wet tissues is particularly crucial for prospective healthcare applications, as the E-skin needs to adjust and stick to dynamic, moist biological surfaces.”

You can get more insights from Texas A&M’s press release HERE. What are your thoughts on this 3D printed electric skin? What applications do you think it holds the most promise for? Share your thoughts with us in the comments or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Remember to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter here to get the latest news on 3D printing directly to your inbox! You can also access all our video content on our YouTube channel.

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