Graphene-based material more sensitive than human skin

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Graphene has been hailed a wonder material, but has yet to make the leap from lab to real world. Researchers in Australia may have changed that. – Getty Images

A new graphene-based material could be made into "skin" for a robot or used to make prosthetic hands more sensitive than real ones.

The graphene-based cellular elastomer, or G-elastomer, was developed by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who say other potential uses are to create soft, tactile robots to help care for elderly people or in the performance of remote surgical procedures.

“This graphene elastomer is a flexible, ultra-light material which can detect pressures and vibrations across a broad bandwidth of frequencies," says one its inventors, Ling Qiu.

"It far exceeds the response range of our skin, and it also has a very fast response time, much faster than conventional polymer elastomer."

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Ling Qui, left, and his colleague Dan Li. – Monash University

Unlike other viscoelastic substances such as polyurethane foam or rubber, the G-elastomer's ability to bounce back extremely quickly under pressure, despite being exceptionally soft, has never before been found in existing soft materials.

“Although we often take it for granted, the pressure sensors in our skin allow us to do things like hold a cup without dropping it, crushing it, or spilling the contents," Qiu says. 

The G-elastomer is also extremely lightweight and highly conductive, so electrical signals are not affected no matter how much it is compressed. 

The research was published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Related reading: Five new uses for miracle material graphene

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