Innovation That Matters

The material's flexibility could improve the movement and durability of robotics | Photo source The University of Texas at Austin

Smart plastic could pave the way for flexible electronics

Computing & Tech

The new material can take on various properties, depending on where it needs to be strong or soft

Spotted: The flexible electronics market is booming; from $24.07 billion (approximately €22.96 billion) in 2021, the global market size is expected to grow to $45.88 billion (approximately €43.75 billion) by 2026. One barrier for creators, though, is finding an appropriate material that is adaptable enough, into which the electronics can be built. Now, a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have created a plastic that can change its properties – including hardness and elasticity – which makes it malleable, versatile, and an ideal option for flexible electronics or soft robotics.

Unlike other plastics which often require organic solvents that are extremely harmful to the environment, the team’s new material requires almost none. The researchers are able to control crystallisation of the material, which is 10 times as strong as natural rubber, meaning they can manipulate its properties with the application of light as a catalyst. Inspired by living things, the team wanted to create a material that could be firm in certain places, and stretchy in others. Often, scientists have combined various materials to achieve this combination, but the likelihood of these materials tearing apart at the juncture is high.

The team’s ‘smart plastic’ is just one material with multiple properties, so it is stronger and more easily stretched than most mixed materials. Because of its changeability, in future the material could be used as a flexible foundation for electronics in medical devices and wearable tech.

Advances in flexible electronics are growing. Springwise has spotted flexible 3D-printed electric circuits, and an electronic ‘skin’ that can be used to control a robot remotely.

Written By: Matilda Cox



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