One of the hardest tasks in making fashion tech and wearable tech ‘smart’ in the sustainable sense of the word, is finding a way to deal with or prevent the creation of e-waste. The United Nations University in their “Globel E-Waste Monitor 2014” forecasted that the amount of global e-waste generation expected to be 49.8 million tons in 2018, with an annual 4-5 percent growth. The good news is that researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder might have found a way to develop an E-skin that according to last week in the journal Science Advances could reduce e-waste.
The thin film, which can be attached to the body like a patch, is equipped with humidity, pressure, temperature and air-flow sensors. Laced with silver nanoparticles, the device is made of three commercially available compounds mixed in a matrix. When the electronic skin is torn apart, the mixture of the three compounds allows the ‘wound’ to ‘heal’ itself by recreating chemical bonds of the separated parts, restoring the matrix. Additionally, when the divided parts are entirely broken, the material could be soaked in a solution to liquefy it so that it could create a brand new E-skin.
E-skin Technology Mimicking The Properties of Human Skin
This is an application that could be helpful in the field of robotics and prosthetic development. It has the potential to enhance biomedical and wearable health devices. For example, amputees will be able to sense temperature and pressure on prosthetic limbs, mimicking the function and mechanical properties of human skin. This is an advancement that could have a significant advantage in the field of wearables, smart textiles and fashion tech.
From smart skin circuits that can offer tactile feedback to stretchable ‘octopus-like’ skin that senses touch there are a lot of research labs developing e-skins. The difference with this latest development from the University of Colorado Boulder is the fact that what it offers is completely recyclable. This is essential and necessary because e-waste is a worldwide problem that is growing fast. It is a problem that carries an incomprehensible amount of toxic chemicals that would most likely make a wearable tech enthusiast feel a bit uncomfortable.
On improving the e-waste problem, study co-author Jianliang Xiao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering of the University of Colorado Boulder research team stated, “We want to make electronics to be environmentally friendly.” He continued, “This particular device won’t produce any waste. 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,” said Xiao. I, personally, cannot wait to see these enhancements being integrated into the wearable technology of the future.