Carbon Nanofiber versus Graphene-Based Stretchable Capacitive Touch Sensors for Artificial Electronic Skin

Adv Sci (Weinh). 2017 Dec 27;5(2):1700587. doi: 10.1002/advs.201700587. eCollection 2018 Feb.


Stretchable capacitive devices are instrumental for new-generation multifunctional haptic technologies particularly suited for soft robotics and electronic skin applications. A majority of elongating soft electronics still rely on silicone for building devices or sensors by multiple-step replication. In this study, fabrication of a reliable elongating parallel-plate capacitive touch sensor, using nitrile rubber gloves as templates, is demonstrated. Spray coating both sides of a rubber piece cut out of a glove with a conductive polymer suspension carrying dispersed carbon nanofibers (CnFs) or graphene nanoplatelets (GnPs) is sufficient for making electrodes with low sheet resistance values (≈10 Ω sq-1). The electrodes based on CnFs maintain their conductivity up to 100% elongation whereas the GnPs-based ones form cracks before 60% elongation. However, both electrodes are reliable under elongation levels associated with human joints motility (≈20%). Strikingly, structural damages due to repeated elongation/recovery cycles could be healed through annealing. Haptic sensing characteristics of a stretchable capacitive device by wrapping it around the fingertip of a robotic hand (ICub) are demonstrated. Tactile forces as low as 0.03 N and as high as 5 N can be easily sensed by the device under elongation or over curvilinear surfaces.

Keywords: artificial electronic skin; carbon nanofibers; elongating tactile sensors; flexible electronics; graphene nanoplatelets.