Stretchy Circuits Break Records for Flexible Electronics

Stretchy Circuits Break Records for Flexible Electronics

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

Newly developed intrinsically stretchable circuits are thousands of times as fast as and possess 20 times as many transistors as previous intrinsically stretchable electronics

IEEE reports

The researchers at Stanford University who developed the circuits have already demonstrated their use in a skin-like Braille-reading sensor array that they say is more sensitive than a human fingertip.

In general, flexible electronics have potential for any application requiring interactions with soft materials, such as devices worn on or implanted within the body. Those applications could include on-skin computers, soft robotics, and brain-machine interfaces.

The researchers fabricated an integrated circuit about 28 square millimeters in size that possesses 1,056 transistors, 528 logic gates, and an operating speed of more than 1 megahertz. Previous intrinsically stretchable electronics were at best capable of 54 transistors and 14 logic gates per circuit, and operating speeds of only 330 hertz.

In addition, the new stretchable transistors demonstrated a field-effect mobility—the speed at which charge flows in a device, which helps control transistor switching speed—of more than 20 square centimeters per volt per second on average, even when stretched to twice their normal size. This results in electrical performance about 20 times as good as previous stretchable electronics, the researchers say.

The transistors also displayed a drive current—which also influences transistor switching speed—of about 2 milliamps per micron, given a supply voltage of 5 volts. This is more than 40 times better than prior stretchable devices. All in all, these new transistors perform roughly as well as state-of-the-art flexible transistors that combine carbon nanotubes, metal oxides, or polycrystalline silicon with plastic films.

To demonstrate a practical application for the new electronics, the researchers built an 8-square-millimeter tactile sensor array that could stick onto a human finger and read Braille writing. The array’s pixels are each just 200 microns wide and arranged in a 10 by 20 pixel grid. In other words, the array posses 2,500 sensors per square centimeter, which is more than 10 times the density of a human fingertip’s mechanical receptors.

The array’s dense configuration of sensors makes it possible to recognize shapes such as triangles, circles, and rectangles less than 1 millimeter across. “Stretchable sensor arrays can be incorporated into prosthetic limbs and orthopedic devices to provide feedback on pressure distribution, muscle activity, and joint movements,” Zhenan Bao, Stanford University, says. “Stretchable sensor arrays can also be used in human-machine interfaces for gesture recognition and motion tracking.”

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