Stretchable wires could herald new generation of wearables

Wires can be stretched to five times original size, still conduct electricity.

University of Tokyo researchers have developed printable conductors that promise to make better wearables and help robots move more like humans.

A group of researchers led by professor Takao Someya developed a material that can achieve the world’s highest conductivity, even after being stretched to five times its original length.

The pastelike conductors are made of silver powder, fluorine-contained rubber, fluorosurfactants and organic solvents. They can be printed on stretchable rubber sheets and textiles. When the Riken research institute looked at the material with an electron microscope, it found that the powder, coated with silver oxide, had melted down and that silver flakes 8 nanometers in size were homogeneously distributed. The silver flakes are the key to the high conductivity.

These printable, stretchable conductors will help make so-called wearables more like sportswear, rather than watches, and can be used as artificial skin and muscles for robots, whose “organs” will require more stretch than those of humans. The next focus will be to improve the conductors’ endurance.

The research was conducted in conjunction with the Japan Science and Technology Agency. Results have been published on line by the British scientific journal Nature Materials.

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