Cornell University researchers have developed an electroluminescent skin capable of stretching to nearly six times its original size while still emitting light.

The hyper-elastic light-emitting capacitor (HLEC) endures more than twice the strain of previously tested stretchable displays. The HLEC consists of layers of transparent hydrogel electrodes sandwiching a dielectric (insulating) elastomer sheet. The elastomer changes luminance and capacitance (the ability to store an electrical charge) when stretched, rolled, and otherwise deformed.

The material can be used to support shape-changing displays, wearable electronics, and color-changing robotics — an important application area as robots play a greater role in everyday lives, said Rob Shepherd, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.
 
"The ability for [robots] to have emotional connection with us will be important, said Shepherd. "So to be able to change their color in response to mood or the tone of the room we believe is going to be important for human-robot interactions.”

In addition to its ability to emit light under a strain of greater than 480 percent its original size, the group’s HLEC was shown to be capable of being integrated into a soft robotic system. Three six-layer HLEC panels were bound together to form a crawling soft robot, with the top four layers making up the light-up skin and the bottom two the pneumatic actuators.

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