A UC Berkeley research team created the first user-interactive sensor network on flexible plastic, according to a news release.
The new electronic skin, or e-skin, reportedly responds to touch by lighting up, and the more pressure you apply, the brighter the light it emits. The e-skin measures 16-by-16 pixels. There is a transistor in each pixel, an organic LED and a pressure sensor.
"We are not just making devices; we are building systems," Ali Javey, UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, said in the news 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."
The research team's findings were published online in the journal Nature Materials.
"In addition to giving robots a finer sense of touch, the engineers believe the new e-skin technology could also be used to create things like wallpapers that double as touchscreen displays and dashboard laminates that allow drivers to adjust electronic controls with the wave of a hand," UC Berkeley said in a news release.
Javey has worked on e-skin technology in the past, using semiconductor nanowire transistors layered on top of thin rubber sheets, according to the news release. The published paper builds on the professor's past work, and research team members see the potential in their findings.
"I could also imagine an e-skin bandage applied to an arm as a health monitor that continuously checks blood pressure and pulse rates," study co-lead author Chuan Wang, who conducted the work as a post-doctoral researcher in Javey's lab at UC Berkeley, said in the news release.
According to the researchers, integrating sensors into a network is not a new idea, but translating the data into something interactive is a "breakthrough."
"Unlike the stiff touchscreens on iPhones, computer monitors and ATMs, the e-skin is flexible and can be easily laminated on any surface," said Wang, who is now an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan State University.
Javey's lab is reportedly trying adjust the e-skin sensors to respond to temperature and light as well as pressure.
To read more about the e-skin findings, click here.