Although this looks a lot like a clear band-aid, it’s actually an ultra-thin, flexible sensor. Developed by Dr. Yong Zhu and fellow researchers from the North Carolina State University, this sensor could be used on fabric, the human body or any other object in order to track things like bioelectric signals or human touch.

“The technology is based on either physical deformation or “fringing” electric field changes. The latter is very similar to the mechanism used in smartphone touch screens, but the sensors we’ve developed are stretchable and can be mounted on a variety of curvilinear surfaces such as human skin,” says Shanshan Yao, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of a paper on the work.

silver nanowire sensor

This sensor can be stretched by up to 150 percent of its original length and yet not lose any functionality. Using silver nanowires, it can store and monitor electric charges. Between the two nanowire conductors there is an insulating material, allowing it to measure capacitive differences as well as giving it capacitive abilites.

The team have tested them by attatching them to their thumbs and then controlling robotic devices. They were also tried on the researchers’ knees to monitor walking, running and jumping.

“These sensors could be used to help develop prosthetics that respond to a user’s movement and provide feedback when in use,” says Dr. Yong Zhu, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and senior author of the paper. “They could also be used to create robotics that can ‘feel’ their environment, or the sensors could be incorporated into clothing to track motion or monitor an individual’s physical health.”

We have already seen capacitive sensors used in existing devices like smart utensils or styluses but they do not the same flexibility of this new type of sensor.

Zhu is hoping that by removing the need for an external device, the sensors can have flexibility and have a whole new set of uses. The ultimate goal would be to embed the sensors in to clothing and even skin but that may be a little while off yet.

[Image via NCSU]