Gel touch sensor for foldaway electronics

A gel-based touch sensor could be set for use in stretchy, foldable touchscreens and wearable technologies. The development - which comes out of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada - is made with highly conductive gel sandwiched between layers of silicon.

The findings and prototype sensor were detailed in a paper published today in online journal Science Advances. Mirza Saquib Sarwar is lead author of the paper and a PhD student in electrical and computer engineering at UBC.

The sensor is transparent and can detect different types of touch while being stretched, folded or bent. It can be produced at a low cost and can register inputs without physical interaction so could be used to detect hovering fingers above electronic devices for example. 

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

Currently the prototype measures 5cm x 5cm but can be scaled to a larger size so could be used outside of wearables and portable devices to produce smart floors, for example, that could detect people and presence. 

"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.