Silver nanowire sensors could help develop new prostheses

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed wearable, low cost sensors out of silver nanowires that measure strain, human touch and bioelectronic signals, such as electrocardiograms. The sensors can be used in biomedical, military or athletic applications, including prosthetics, robotic systems and flexible touch panels.

“These sensors could be used to help develop prosthetics that respond to a user’s movement and provide feedback when in use,” Yong Zhu, PhD, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State, stated in a news release. “They could also be used to create robotics that can ‘feel’ their environment, or the sensors could be incorporated into clothing to track motion or monitor an individual’s physical health.”

Using information from Zhu’s earlier work, the researchers created highly conductive and elastic conductors made from silver nanowires. To do this, an insulating material was placed between two of the stretchable conductors. The two layers have the ability to store electric charges that can be changed by pushing, pulling or touching the conductors.

The researchers have used these sensors to monitor thumb movement, which can be useful in controlling robotic or prosthetic devices. They also demonstrated an application to monitor knee movements while a patient is running, walking and jumping. According to a press release, the researchers also developed an array of sensors that can map pressure distribution, which is important for use in robotic and prosthetic applications.

“The deformation involved in these movements is large and would break a lot of other sensor devices,” Zhu said. “But our sensors can be stretched to 150% or more of their original length without losing functionality, so they can handle it.”

For more information:

Yao S. Nanoscale. 2014;doi:10.1039/C3NR05496A.

Disclosure: This research was funded by the National Science Foundation through NC State’s ASSIST Engineering Research Center.

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