A new type of stretchable and biocompatible material developed at Stanford University could revolutionize the way we interact with technology. The material, which is applied to the skin like suntan spray, contains a tiny electrical network that can sense hand movements and gestures using artificial intelligence (AI). The researchers behind the technology envision a future where people type on invisible keyboards, identify objects by touch alone, or communicate with apps using hand gestures in immersive environments.
The material, which is made from polyurethane and embedded with a sprayable electrically sensitive mesh network, is the same durable and stretchable material used to make skateboard wheels and protect hardwood floors. The mesh is made up of millions of nanowires coated with silver and gold that form dynamic electrical pathways. It is biocompatible, breathable, and stays on unless washed with soap and water, and can conform to the wrinkles and folds of each finger it is worn on. A Bluetooth module can be attached to the mesh to wirelessly transfer the signal changes.
As the fingers bend and twist, the nanowires in the mesh get squeezed together and stretched apart, changing the electrical conductivity of the mesh. These changes can be measured and analyzed to determine how a hand, finger, or joint is moving. Machine learning is then used to map the changing patterns in conductivity to specific physical tasks and gestures. Once the algorithm is trained, the physical keyboard is no longer needed and users can type on an invisible keyboard using hand gestures alone.
The technology has the potential to be used in a wide range of applications, including gaming, sports, telemedicine, and robotics. It could also be used in virtual reality applications to convey finely detailed motions for a more realistic experience. The device’s spray-on nature means it can conform to any size or shape of hand, but it could also potentially be adapted to the face to capture subtle emotional cues, enabling new approaches to computer animation and avatar-led virtual meetings with more realistic facial expressions and hand gestures.