Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) enable direct and near-instant communication between the brain and electronic devices. One of the biggest remaining challenges is to develop an effective noninvasive BCI that allows the recording electrodes to avoid hair on human skin without the inconveniences and complications of using a conductive gel. In this study, we developed a cost-effective, easily manufacturable, flexible, robust, and gel-free silver nanowire/polyvinyl butyral (PVB)/melamine sponge (AgPMS) electroencephalogram (EEG) electrode that circumvents problems with hair. Because of surface metallization by the silver nanowires (AgNWs), the sponge has a high conductivity of 917 S/m while its weight remains the same. The flexible sponge framework and self-locking AgNWs combine to give the new electrode remarkable mechanical stability (the conductivity remains unchanged after 10 000 cycles at 10% compression) and the ability to bypass hair. A BCI application based on steady-state visual evoked potential (SSVEP) measurements on hairless skin shows that the BCI accuracy of the new electrode (86%) is approximately the same as that of conventional electrodes supported by a conductive gel (88%). Most importantly, the performance of the AgPMS on hairy skin is not significantly reduced, which indicates that the new electrode can replace conventional electrodes for both hairless and hairy skin BCIs and other EEG applications.
Keywords: Brain-computer interfaces; flexible electronics; gel-free electrode; silver nanowire.