Recent advances in the development of conductive, transparent and cheap nanofiber film could lead to major changes in the future of wearables. Would you wear an electronic skin?
The wearable branch of the IoT industry is still in its infancy. Developments such as smart clothes that help athletes train and perform better and help manage children with autism are opening our eyes to the possibilities. What’s holding wearables back is the bulky nature of the devices and the need to wear specific items of clothing at specific times, for example. What if that requirement went away?
What is electronic skin?
Up until today an electronic skin has been the stuff of science fiction due to the difficulty in making something that’s both conductive and transparent. However, a team of American and Korean researchers say they have developed a nanofiber film that is 92 percent transparent but with electrical resistance that’s many times better than anything developed before.
The film is created by electrospinning polyacrylonitrile, a polymer resin, until it forms a mat. This mat is then coated with metal and electroplated. The final material should be very durable and able to sustain substantial flexing without losing its properties.
Perhaps most critically of all for widespread adoption by industry, nanofiber film will be cheap to manufacture thanks to relatively common materials and a relatively simple, repeatable production process.
A technology about more than just wearables
Although we expect such mass-production of nanofiber film to be some way off yet, researchers and scientists envision a world where flexible electronics are in daily use.
Wearables are already helping to improve health monitoring and diagnosis, but a true electronic skin has the potential to improve results exponentially.
However, this technology will have potential uses far beyond e-skin. Imagine the possibilities of truly flexible electronic devices: from roll-up touchscreen devices to solar panels that can wrap around buildings.
What could your business do with nanofiber film?