The flexible sensor measures 5 × 5 cm but could be easily scaled up. (Credit: UBC Public Affairs)

Picture an artificial skin that can sense your body’s movements and vital signs. A new, inexpensive sensor could help make advanced devices like these a reality. The sensor uses a highly conductive gel sandwiched between layers of silicone that can detect different types of touch, including swiping and tapping, even when it is stretched, folded, or bent. This feature makes it suited for foldable devices of the future.

The device can detect pressure or a hovering finger similar to current devices on the market, but it is also foldable, transparent, and stretchable. The prototype measures 5 × 5 cm but could be easily scaled up because it uses inexpensive, widely available materials, including the gel and silicone.

The researchers say it is possible to make a room-sized version of the sensor for just dollars per square meter, and that the sensors can be placed on almost anything that requires a transparent, stretchable touch screen, including a wall, a floor, or over the surface of the body. Because It is cheap to manufacture, it could be embedded cost-effectively in disposable wearables like health monitors.