Solar-Cell “Super Skin” Is Better Than Yours

Stanford University chemical engineering Professor Zhenan Bao has developed a flexible, stretchable solar cell, which she envisions as a future component in artificial skin for robots, human prosthetic limbs, or even clothing.

The film stretches up to 30% from its original size along two axes without losing function or resulting in loss of elasticity. That kind of durability allows for innovative applications; Bao speculates that her film could be incorporated into soldiers’ uniforms as a bio-sensor, or into prosthetic limbs and digits that perceive touch and have better flexibility than current options.

The sensory-detection system built into the skin is so sensitive it can detect the presence of a housefly. With customized nanolayers, the film can also be used as a sensor for various chemical and biological compounds. One test performed already shows that a modified Super-Skin film can detect a certain kind of DNA.

Bao said she sees the super skin as much more than a super mimic of human skin; it could allow robots or other devices to perform functions beyond what human skin can do.

“You can imagine a robot hand that can be used to touch some liquid and detect certain markers or a certain protein that is associated with some kind of disease and the robot will be able to effectively say, ‘Oh, this person has that disease,'” she said. “Or the robot might touch the sweat from somebody and be able to say, ‘Oh, this person is drunk.'”

With applications testing and further developments underway, I’m interested to see where the Super-Skin ends up first. My prediction: military use. What do you guys think?

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