Researchers have developed a sensor that can perceive combinations of bending, stretching, compression, and temperature changes, all using a robust system that boils down to a simple concept: color.

Dubbed ChromoSense, the technology relies on a translucent rubber cylinder containing three sections dyed red, green, and blue. An LED at the top of the device sends light through its core, and changes in the light’s path through the colors as the device is bent or stretched are picked up by a miniaturized spectral meter at the bottom.

A thermosensitive section of the device also allows it to detect temperature changes, using a special dye — similar to that in color-changing T-shirts or mood rings — that desaturates in color when it is heated.

ChromoSense allows for more targeted, information-dense readings, and the sensor can be easily embedded into different materials for different tasks. Thanks to its simple mechanical structure and use of color over cameras, it could lend itself to inexpensive mass production. (Image credit: EPFL/Titouan Veuillet/Adrian Alberola Campailla)

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