Roll up your smart­phones

A bend­able sil­i­con sen­sor is on the hori­zon, mak­ing flex­i­ble touch­screens and robot skins dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ties in the near fu­ture, writes Daisy Dunne

New Straits Times - - Bots - Daily Mail

IMAG­INE own­ing a smart­phone or TV that can roll up to fit in your pocket. That could soon be re­al­ity, thanks a new flex­i­ble sen­sor that can de­tect sub­tle dif­fer­ences in touch, in­clud­ing swip­ing and tap­ping. Re­searchers said the stretch­able sen­sor can be used to build fold­ing TV screens and tablets and may even be used to make skin for ro­bots.

The team from the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia in Van­cou­ver used a highly con­duc­tive gel sand­wiched be­tween lay­ers of sil­i­cone to make their bend­able sen­sor. It is sen­si­tive to dif­fer­ent types of touch even when it is stretched, folded or bent. The stretchy trans­par­ent sen­sor, pic­tured in the hands of re­searcher Mirza Saquib Sar­war, can be used to build fold­able screens

Sci­en­tists have in­vented a flex­i­ble sen­sor, us­ing con­duc­tive gel and sil­i­con.

The low-cost ma­te­rial can be al­tered to make stretchy sen­sors of any shape or size. Th­ese fea­tures make the sen­sor suit­able for the fold­able de­vices of the fu­ture.

“There are sen­sors that can de­tect pressure, such as the iPhone’s 3D Touch, and some that can de­tect a hov­er­ing fin­ger, like Sam­sung’s AirView,” said re­searcher Mirza Saquib Sar­war, a PhD stu­dent in elec­tri­cal and com­puter en­gi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia.

The flex­i­ble sen­sor is sen­si­tive to dif­fer­ent types of touch, in­clud­ing swip­ing and tap­ping, even when it is bent. The flex­i­ble sen­sor is sen­si­tive to dif­fer­ent types of touch, in­clud­ing swip­ing and tap­ping, even when it is bent and folded.

“There are also sen­sors that are fold­able, trans­par­ent and stretch­able. Our con­tri­bu­tion is a de­vice that com­bines all those func­tions in one com­pact pack­age.”

The pro­to­type mea­sures 5sqcm but can be eas­ily scaled up as it uses in­ex­pen­sive, ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing gel and sil­i­cone, said the re­searchers.

“It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble to make a room­sized ver­sion of this sen­sor for just dol­lars per square me­tre, and then put sen­sors on the wall, on the floor, or over the sur­face

of the body, al­most any­thing that re­quires a trans­par­ent, stretch­able touch screen.

“And be­cause it’s cheap to man­u­fac­ture, it could be em­bed­ded cost-ef­fec­tively in dis­pos­able wear­ables like health mon­i­tors.”

To cre­ate the sen­sor, a gel is poured out and com­bined with sil­i­con-based ma­te­ri­als that are stretchy and trans­par­ent. The mix­ture is then flat­tened into a cen­time­trethin sil­i­cone film and sen­sors are at­tached.

There is no limit on how many sen­sors can be packed into the sil­i­cone film. The sen­sor could also be in­te­grated in ro­botic “skins” to make hu­man-robot in­ter­ac­tions safer, ac­cord­ing to John Mad­den, a pro­fes­sor at the univer­sity’s fac­ulty of ap­plied sci­ence.

“Cur­rently, ma­chines are kept sep­a­rate from hu­mans in the work­place be­cause of the pos­si­bil­ity that they could in­jure hu­mans,” he said.

“If a robot could de­tect our pres­ence and be ‘soft’ enough that they don’t dam­age us dur­ing an in­ter­ac­tion, we can safely ex­change tools with them. They can pick up ob­jects with­out dam­ag­ing them and they can safely probe their en­vi­ron­ment.”

The re­search was pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence Ad­vances.

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