Scientists in Germany have developed a sensor that can be worn on the skin to turn it into a surface for controlling mobile devices such as smartphones and smartwatches.
The device is called iSkin, and it was developed by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and Saarland University. The system has been created in a number of different shapes and sizes, and includes pressure-sensitive sensors, allowing the user to use their own body as a control method for mobile devices.
"Current electronics are mostly using rigid components which are very uncomfortable to wear on the body and are limiting the locations to, for example, the wrist or on the head to be worn," said Martin Weigel, a co-developer of the sensor, in an interview with Reuters. "But our sensor is a flexible and stretchable sensor, so it can cover many locations. For example, even the backside of the ear or the forearm. So, we have a much larger input space than current electronics allow for."
The prototype of the technology is based on "electronic skin," which essentially allows robots and electronics to better sense their environment. It also is used to create more advanced prosthetics that are able to sense pressure and temperature. Of course, its uses extend beyond this, as the creators of iSkin saw.
The material used in the device is polydimethylsiloxane, which is an organic, silicone-based polymer. Carbon black powder is added to the silicone before it is spread thin. Tattoo-like designs then are added, which make up the sensor. Two clear sheets of silicone are then used on the top and bottom of the device.
"The sensor is made out of bio-compatible silicone and carbon-doped silicone. So there are carbon particles inside the silicone which make it conductive so we can use it for electronics," continued Weigel.
The sensors are applied to the skin, but when the user no longer wants to use the sensor it can be peeled off without damaging the skin. The sensors can detect touch input pressure even when if they're being stretched or bent. Wearers could answer incoming calls, play music and adjust volume with the prototypes; researchers also designed a roll-up keyboard for use with a smart watch.
The tech is currently connected to a computer through a series of wires, but it could evolve and eventually it could connect to electronic devices through a wireless connection such as Bluetooth or through Wi-Fi. The developers also hope that it could develop to use body heat to power the device. Currently the team isn't planning on developing the device any further, but it hopes that it will inspire other researchers and scientists to create similar devices.