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Stanford Builds Capacitive Sensor That Stretches Like Skin [Video]

By Wesley Fenlon

Capacitive touch sensor? Skin? What's the difference? They both handle sensory inputs, and Stanford's silicone capacitive sensor stretches just like flesh.

Carbon nanotubes are being put to work in all kinds of amazing applications these days. Invisibility cloaks? Sure thing. Stretchable capacitive sensors that could add touch controls to malleable devices or give robots an outer layer of sensitive skin? They can do that, too. A Stanford project created touch sensing nanotube "springs" by spraying carbon nanotubes into a thin film of liquid between layers of silicone.

The silicone can stretch without deforming the tubes inside; putting pressure on the pad changes pressure on the electrically-charged middle layer, which is how touch is detected. Check out the video below for a closer look and a reference to Stanford's true goal: bringing Star Trek's Data to life.

Stanford's skin really does have the sensitivity to serve as replacement for lost tissue or give robots their own sense of touch. An earlier prototype was easily sensitive enough to feel the pressure created by a 20 milligram fly--imagine how responsive they'll be in a few more years.

Touch sensors are seemingly leading the pack when it comes to flexible electronics. Before we can have something like the Nokia Morph, the rest of the technology will have to catch up--our processors, batteries and memory aren't quite as keen on stretching as capacitive silicone.