Translating sense of touch into electrical signals is difficult because the sensors are rigid and do not conform to the wearer. UCSB researchers have developed a "skin-like" electronic tactile sensor that can be stretched and tailored to achieve sensitivity, dynamic range, and other performance measures that are not currently available
Tangible sensors that have been developed thus far use inflexible substrates that cannot be transformed into alternate forms. Even devices that can be modified to bend or stretch can still damage tactile sensing. Researchers from numerous fields including robotics, biomedical engineering, and materials engineering, have tried several strategies for producing flexible sensing arrays. However, current designs still lack stretch-ability resulting in sensors that cannot accurately transduce distributed finite-strain information, such as the information produced during palpation. Additionally, these devices cannot transmit the distributed finite-strain information to the skin of a wearer, and cannot conform to the skin of a wearer without imposing undesirable deformation. Researchers at UC Santa Barbara, have created a stretchable electronic tactile sensor that can be stretched over 50% in at least two axial directions. This technology can be tailored to match application-specific requirements, and to achieve sensitivity, dynamic range, and other performance measures that are not possible with alternative methods. It can be used to image mechanical properties of touched objects such as, for example, tissue palpated during medical examination, in order to aid in diagnosis. In the case of tissue palpation, the sensing method is used to detect and image subcutaneous anomalies in tissue.
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