The techonology, dubbed ‘e-skin’ has been designed by University of Colorado Boulder researchers in a development reminiscent of science fiction classics.
The material is malleable, self-healing and fully recyclable, and is already being tipped to revolutionise robotics, prosthetics and biomedical devices.
E-skins are thin, translucent material which can mimic the function and mechanical properties of human skin, and different types are being developed across the globe.
Boulder’s researchers have fitted the e-skin with sensors embedded to measure pressure, temperature, humidity and air flow.
It is also laced with silver nanoparticles to provide better mechanical strength, chemical stability and electrical conductivity.
Assistant Professor Jianliang Xiao said: “What is unique here is that the chemical bonding of polyimine we use allows the e-skin to be both self-healing and fully recyclable at room temperature.
“Given the millions of tons of electronic waste generated worldwide every year, the recyclability of our e-skin makes good economic and environmental sense.”
Associate Professor Wei Zhang said while many people are familiar with The Terminator, the classic 1980s movie, the new process was not nearly as dramatic – although he added that in the future, the tech could be used to give robots “skin” much like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic character.
Professor Zhang said: “Let’s say you wanted a robot to take care of a baby.
“In that case you would integrate e-skin on the robot fingers that can feel the pressure of the baby.
“The idea is to try and mimic biological skin with e-skin that has desired functions.”
To recycle the skin, the device is soaked into a recycling solution, making the polymers degrade into oligomers (polymers with polymerisation degree usually below 10) and monomers (small molecules that can be joined together into polymers) that are soluble in ethanol.
The silver nanoparticles sink to the bottom of the solution.
Professor Xiao said: “The recycled solution and nanoparticles can then be used to make new, functional e-skin.”
The study was published in the journal Science Advances.