Touch-responsive fabric armbands – for flexible keyboards, wearable sketch pads

May 02, 2023

(Nanowerk News๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s time to roll up your sleeves for the next advancement in wearable technology โ€“ fabric armbands that are actually touch pads.

In the ACS nano (“Skin-Friendly Wearable Iontronic Touch Panel for Virtual-Real Handwriting Interaction”), researchers say they have found a way to make it easier to play video games, sketch cartoons, and sign documents. Their proof-of-concept silk armband turned a person’s forearm into a keyboard or sketch pad.

Touch-responsive, three-layered material interprets what the user draws or types and converts it into an image on the computer. When someone draws a panda on the touch responsive armband worn on their forearm (bottom right of photo), it will appear on the computer. (Image: Adapted from ACS Nano 2023, DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.2c12612)

Computer trackpads and electronic signature capture devices seem to be ubiquitous, but they’re of little use on wearables. Researchers have suggested making flexible, touch-responsive panels from clear hydrogel that is electrically conductive, but the substance is sticky, making it difficult to write on and irritating the skin.

So, Xueji Zhang, Lijun Qu, Mingwei Tian and colleagues wanted to incorporate a similar hydrogel into a cloth sleeve that would be convenient for drawing or playing games on the computer.

The researchers slid a pressure-sensitive hydrogel between layers of knitted silk. The top is coated with graphene nanosheets to make the fabric electrically conductive.

Attaching the sensing pad to the electrodes and data collection system results in a pressure-responsive pad with fast, real-time sensing as a finger glides over it, writing numbers and letters.

The device is then inserted into an arm-length silk sleeve with a touch-responsive area on the forearm. In the experiment, users controlled the direction of blocks in a computer game and created colorful cartoon sketches in a computer drawing program from armbands.

The researchers say their proof-of-concept wearable touch panel could inspire the next generation of wearable flexible keyboards and sketchpads.

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