This Wonder System Turns Any Surface Into A Touchscreen

Researchers at UC Berkeley unveiled a new kind of flexible plastic which is super-thin, inexpensive to produce, and responds directly to a user's touch.

A new engineering feat could radically change the nature of electronics and consumer goods. University of California-Berkeley researchers have created the world's first interactive sensor network on flexible plastic—essentially, an interactive touchskin. When the skin-like flexible plastic is touched, it lights up in response to the exact amount of pressure applied, glowing brighter and brighter with more and more pressure.

While the current iteration is primitive, it has wide-ranging ramifications. The research team, led by Ali Javey, focused primarily on giving robots an increased sense of touch, but there are a number of consumer goods into which this flexible touchscreen could be integrated. Among them is the very real possibility of turning any window or wall into a computer interface much like a smartphone screen.

Chuan Wang, who co-wrote a paper for journal Nature Materials with Javey, said in a release, "I could also imagine an e-skin bandage applied to an arm as a health monitor that continuously checks blood pressure and pulse rates. Integrating sensors into a network is not new, but converting the data obtained into something interactive is the breakthrough—unlike the stiff touchscreens on iPhones, computer monitors, and ATMs, the e-skin is flexible and can be easily laminated on any surface."

Next up for researchers will be the challenge of tweaking the e-skin sensors to respond not just to pressure, but to temperature and light.

[Image: UC Berkeley]

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