Wearable strain sensors have been widely used for human activity monitoring. Most reported strain sensors have mainly focused on material engineering, high stretchability and large gauge factors.
Few works have focused on strain sensor’s robustness and reliability, including low hysteresis, good long-term stability, good electrode material stability, and low coupling effects under multi-input signals, which are the factors that limit practical strain sensor applications. To develop a high-performance strain sensor, we propose a flexible capacitive sensor structure with three-dimensional (3D) interdigital electrodes fabricated by vertically aligned carbon nanotubes. Compared with a traditional resistive strain sensor and a capacitive strain sensor with vertical sandwich electrodes, a strain sensor with horizontal parallel interdigital electrodes can benefit from low cross talk in terms of the normal force and improve substrate transparency. Additionally, embedding 3D electrodes into the substrate improves ultrahigh robustness with a low-pressure coupling effect under normal force. Moreover, compared with other reported works, the electrode variation under strain is small (less than 1.6%), which means that the perturbation of inert properties on device performance is small.
Finally, the fabricated strain sensor achieves an ultralow hysteresis (0.35%), excellent pressure-insensitive performance (less than 0.8%), fast response (60 ms), good long-term stability, and good transparency. As an application example, a flexible strain sensor was successfully demonstrated as a wearable device for the precise monitoring of different types of human activities, including bending of the finger, knee, elbow, wrist, and neck with large strain signals and small strain signals generated by a mouth-opening activity. This excellent performance indicates that the flexible strain sensor is a promising candidate for human motion detection, soft robotics, and medical care.
More information: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41378-022-00450-7