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An artificial skin allows a robotic hand to sense hot and cold. (Credit: University of Houston)

A team of researchers has reported a breakthrough in stretchable electronics that can serve as an artificial skin, allowing a robotic hand to sense the difference between hot and cold, while also offering advantages for a wide range of biomedical devices.

The work is the first semiconductor in rubber composite format that enables stretchability without any special mechanical structure. They created the electronic skin and used it to demonstrate that a robotic hand could sense the temperature of hot and iced water in a cup. The skin also was able to interpret computer signals sent to the hand and reproduce the signals as American Sign Language.

The artificial skin is just one application. Researchers said the discovery of a material that is soft, bendable, stretchable and twistable will impact future development in soft wearable electronics, including health monitors, and medical implants.

The stretchable composite semiconductor was prepared by using a silicon-based polymer known as polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS, and tiny nanowires to create a solution that hardened into a material which used the nanowires to transport electric current.

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