Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, have created a paper-thin electronic skin (e-skin) that responds to touch by lighting up.

This new creation is the first user-interactive sensor network on flexible plastic. The response to touch is stronger and light emitted is brighter when the pressure from the touch is higher.

"We are not just making devices; we are building systems," said Ali Javey, UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, in a press release. "With the interactive e-skin, we have demonstrated an elegant system on plastic that can be wrapped around different objects to enable a new form of human-machine interfacing."

Javey's new paper-thin electronic skin is an upgrade of his earlier work, where he and his team created a pressure-sensitive electronic material from semiconductor nano wires that was referred to as "thin-skinned."

The new e-skin measures 16 by 16 pixels and each pixel contains an organic LED, a transistor and a pressure sensor. The team created the new e-skin by using a thin layer of polymer on top of a silicon wafer. After the plastic hardened, they ran the material through fabrication tools already in use in the semiconductor industry to layer on the electronic components. They then peeled off the  plastic from the silicon base, leaving a freestanding film with a sensor network embedded in it.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, believe that their new creation can be used not only to make robots more sensitive, but also in wallpapers as touchscreens It can be used as dashboard laminates that will allow drivers to adjust electronic controls with the wave of a hand.

"I could also imagine an e-skin bandage applied to an arm as a health monitor that continuously checks blood pressure and pulse rates," said study co-lead author Chuan Wang, who conducted the work as a post-doctoral researcher in Javey's lab at UC Berkeley. "Integrating sensors into a network is not new, but converting the data obtained into something interactive is the breakthrough. And unlike the stiff touchscreens on iPhones, computer monitors and ATMs, the e-skin is flexible and can be easily laminated on any surface."

Javey and his team are now working on making the e-skin respond to light and temperature along with touch.

Results of the study and description of the e-skin were published online in the journal Nature Materials, July 21.