What are Light-Emitting Capacitors good for?

HLEC, or Hyper-elastic Light-Emitting Capacitors are good for making electroluminescent skin for robotics, and you can do a lot with them. That is according to Dr. Rob Shepard of Cornell University and his team of graduate students, who have published a paper on the electroluminescent skin they have developed recently.

The team was inspired to develop the electroluminescent skin by observing several cephalopods such as the Octopus. According to the team, their material can change its color, just as an octopus can, including changing its size to fit into areas that structures that are more rigid cannot. For instance, the skin continues to emit light even when it has been stretched to about six times its original size.

Layers of transparent hydrogel electrodes separated with elastomer sheets as dielectric make up these HLEC or Hyper-elastic Light-Emitting Capacitors. Panels of these capacitors, integrated into robotic systems, and outfitted with sensors act as ideal health-based sensor applications for wearables. The team at Cornell has fabricated one robotic system from three panels and it is capable or crawling. With each panel consisting of six layers, the robot crawls along with worm-like movements, using two pneumatic actuators that alternately inflate and then deflate. You can see the stretchable skin and its crawling action in the video here.

Although the team is in raptures over how well the HLEC panels function, their next step is convert the material into practical devices with applications – find a reason to use it, as they say.

The team expects the development of uses for these new panels to lead to some innovative applications. Although at present, the speculated devices range primarily from health care to industries related to transportation, there is a significant interest in future robotic application as well. The latter is based on the interest in advancing the way robots interact with humans.

For instance, the robot Atlas, from Boston Dynamics, looks formidable enough to crush you were you to give it a hug accidentally. Humans prefer soft and puffy robots, and in the future, robots may even be able to change color based on the mood of the person in front. People generally grow an innate fear of robots after having watched T-800 in movies such as ‘The Terminator’. However, future robots such as Baymax should help make a difference in their thinking. According to Professor Shephard, HLEC panels can be part of the break-through.

It is important to get the human-robot interactions right. Simple things such as the ability to change their color can let robots make emotional connections with humans. This could be in response to the tone of the room or the mood of the humans in it.

This new electroluminescent skin has a huge potential for all kinds of new devices. However, it needs the assistance of other engineers as well to discover new applications and make use of this technology. Primarily, the material scientists who developed this skin are planning to use this for life-saving wearable health monitors. However, it could easily be used as a robot that fits into tight areas. Once the HLEC panels are commercially available, surely, there will be many people to think of additional innovative applications.