Gallium shape shifting technology for wearable designs

Gallium shape shifting technology for wearable designs

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

Researchers at KAIST in South Korea have developed a shape shifting system that can electronically transform its shape, flexibility, and stretchability, allowing users to tune its stiffness.

The team, led by Professor Jae-Woong Jeong from the School of Electrical Engineering at KAIST, calls the new platform ‘Transformative Electronics Systems’ and believes it will allow reconfigurable electronic interfaces to be optimised for a variety of applications.

“This new class of electronics will not only offer robust, convenient interfaces for use in both tabletop or handheld setups, but also allow seamless integration with the skin when applied onto our bodies,” said Jeong.

The system uses a gallium metal structure hermetically encapsulated and sealed within a soft silicone material, combined with electronics that are designed to be flexible and stretchable. The mechanical shape shifting is triggered by temperature change events controlled by the user.

“Gallium is an interesting key material. It is biocompatible, has high rigidity in solid form, and melts at a temperature comparable to the skin’s temperature,” said Sang-Hyuk Byun, a researcher at KAIST.

Once the transformative electronic platform comes in contact with a human body, the gallium metal encapsulated inside the silicone changes to a liquid state and softens the whole electronic structure, making it stretchable, flexible, and wearable. The gallium metal then solidifies again once the structure is peeled off the skin, making the electronic circuits stiff and stable. Integrating flexible electronic circuits into such shape shifting systems creates new opportunities for the design of wearables.

“This technology could not have been achieved without interdisciplinary efforts,” said co-lead author Joo Yong Sim, who is a researcher with ETRI. “We worked together with electrical, mechanical, and biomedical engineers, as well as material scientists and neuroscientists to make this breakthrough.”

The universal shape shifting electronics platform allowed researchers to demonstrate applications that were highly adaptable and customizable, such as a multi-purpose personal electronics with variable stiffness and stretchability, a pressure sensor with tuneable bandwidth and sensitivity, and a neural probe that softens upon implantation into brain tissue.

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