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Smart stickers turn the human body into a touchpad

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​Researchers at Saarland University have developed smart sensors built into stickers, which could be attached to the skin to control mobile devices.

The sensors make it possible, for the first time, to precisely capture touches on the body very precisely. “The human body offers a large surface that is easy to access, even without eye contact,” explains Jurgen Steimle, a professor of computer science at Saarland University.

The sensor, named Multi-Touch Skin, is constructed in a similar fashion to a smartphone capacitive touchscreen. It consists of two electrodes layers, arranged in rows and columns and then stacked on top of each other to form a grid.

When fingers touch the intersections between these points, the capacitance is lowered, and touches can be detected from multiple fingers. Researchers evaluated a number of different materials including PVC, PET and silver.

“So that we could really use the sensors on all parts of the body, we had to free them from their rectangular shape. That was an important aspect,” explained Aditya Shekhar Nittala, who is doing his doctoral research in Steimle’s research group.

To facilitate this, the researchers created software that allows users to draw any shape of sensor they desire, and then calculates the optimal layout of electrodes to create the best touch-sensing properties.

Instead of awkward rectangular stickers, they were able to create more flexible form-factors, including one that can be placed behind the ear. Users are able to swipe up and down, to use it as a volume control, or left and right to skip tracks.

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