Flexible electronics is an area of study that has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and is an area of interest for many electronics companies. Liquid metal circuits are being researched as a potential step-up for wearable tech and biomedical devices.
At present, there are certain elements that make the advancement of flexible electronics difficult. One of these elements is the conductive material inside. If a rigid material like copper is used in flexible circuitry, it may break.
Some researchers are looking into the use of conductive threads, like those made out of carbon nanotubes. Others are taking a different approach and developing liquid metal circuits.
Liquid metal used for circuits has not been a popular concept for a long time, mostly due to the fame (or infamy) of mercury. Mercury is a liquid at room temperature, but is highly toxic and couldn’t be used in electronics for safety reasons. Gallium, however, is beginning to look like a viable alternative.
While Gallium has a slightly higher melting point than mercury, it is not toxic and can conduct heat and electricity. The metal forms an oxide layer in the open air and this was viewed as a disadvantage in the past. Now, though, it could be advantageous when creating flexible circuitry.
Flexible electronics could have a number of uses in everyday life, and one hoped use is for soft robotics. With soft robots food could be handled safely without the risk of cross-contamination. It also opens up a wealth of possibilities for deep-sea exploration and specimen collection.
In a different area, soft robotics could have biomedical uses. Wearable technology, drug delivery devices and artificial organs are all potential utilisations of stretchable, human-mimicking electronics.
Soft robotics are already being used for prosthetic limbs. In 2020 a prosthetic hand was created for amputees, with functioning fingers and a moving thumb. Although in the very early stages of development, the prototype could pave the way for life-changing robotics in the future.
Aside from the more medical or safety-focused applications, there could be more recreational uses too. The use of soft robotics in conjunction with VR could make for an even more immersive user experience.
Stretching or twisting a mesh of gallium wires by it will change the electrical current running through them. At the moment this is still being researched, but it could be used for VR in the future. If gallium mesh was used in gloves, it could detect the pressure applied and translate it into VR.
Whether it’s for recreational, medical or safety purposes, exploring the use of liquid metal circuits and researching their potential could be greatly beneficial to the electronics industry, and the industries that come after it.
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This blog is purely for entertainment and informational purposes, it is in no way instructional.