Carrying a tablet or laptop in a relatively small bag is quite difficult. Sometimes I wish I could just fold them and put them away in my pocket. Though Samsung is showing off its flexible displays for the last couple of years, it’s still difficult to find a display that can detect pressure, as well as gesture, is foldable, stretchable and transparent at the same time. Now, researchers from the University of British Columbia have developed a flexible sensor that could help develop more flexible displays.
According to Mirza Saquib Sarwar, a Ph.D. student who has been working on this research, this flexible sensor combines the abilities of hover detection sensors like Samsung’s AirView, pressure detection sensors like Apple’s 3D Touch, and also foldable, transparent, as well as stretchable at the same time. The research has been published in Science Advances.
The sensor is made of a highly conductive gel packed between layers of silicone, which can detect different types of gestures like swiping and tapping. Even if the sensor is stretched, folded, or bent, it can detect the gestures. And the best part is the flexible sensor is made up of inexpensive, widely available materials. Currently, it’s limited to 5 cm x 5 cm proof-of-concept, but it could easily be scaled up to develop low-cost flexible displays.
“It’s entirely possible to make a room-sized 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,” said Sarwar. “And because it’s cheap to manufacture, it could be embedded cost-effectively in disposable wearables like health monitors.”
Besides flexible displays and wearable, they can also be used to develop artificial skin for robots to make human-robot interaction easier and safer. John Madden, a professor in UBC’s faculty of applied science and Sarwar’s supervisor thinks if robots skins are capable of detecting human gestures and soft enough not to do any harm, it would be easier to put them together in a workplace. Their research was backed by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.