THE EXCITING EVOLUTION OF TOUCH SENSITIVE ELECTRONICS
As an electronics manufacturer we love to see new developments happening in the industry, and a recent report by IDTechEx - along with some impressive work by Stanford University researchers - has got us pretty excited about the future of touch sensitive electronics.
Flexible and electronically sensitive synthetic skin has been evolving for a long time, but after two decades of exploration, Zhenan Bao, a chemical engineer at the university, has created a stretchable prototype of a polymer circuitry with integrated touch-sensors.
This opens up a whole new world of opportunities, and the development of a reliable manufacturing process could soon see the mass production of a range of products utilising this incredible advancement.
Application of stretchable circuitry
Rigid electronics have always been the norm, but developing an effective, stretchable material with integrated touch sensors could, in the future, help wearers of prosthetic limbs to fully interact with the world around them. In fact, it was her interest in this potential application that largely motivated Bao to pursue her research.
Although prosthetics have come a long way, this new material is capable of detecting the lightest of sensations, such as the footfall of a tiny ladybird - as the product is developed, it could enable prosthetics to be covered with a touch sensitive synthetic skin that will restore the ability to feel, essentially giving users a fully working limb without the traditional constraints.
As more work is done to develop the prototype, Bao is confident that we could see polymer-based electronics one day being connected with the nervous system - bringing not just touch sensitivity, but also the capacity to gauge temperature and other sensations that previously could only be detected by living human skin.
While this may still be some way off, these advances in electronics could lend themselves to other applications, such as flexible touchscreen technology and patches for medical use.
Flexible electronics manufacturing
So far, Bao and her research team have successfully created the material in two inch squares, with more than six thousand individual signal processing elements that essentially act like synthetic nerve endings.
Perhaps even more exciting is the material's ability to be stretched to more than a thousand times its original size while still retaining its sensitivity, along with its successful application to the undulating contours of a human hand in tests.
Bao's work paves the way for the development of the mass production of stretchable touch sensitive electronics, with a manufacturing process that could see these types of products commercialised in the not too distant future.
While Bao is the first to admit that there's still work to be done in terms of improving the electronic speed and performance of this synthetic material, it looks like we're on the cusp of advancements in touch sensitive electronics that will be a true game-changer.
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