Technology Breakthrough for Digital Communication of Touch Signals

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed technology that could pave the way for digital systems to record, store, and replay information through touch. "Touch was largely bypassed by the digital revolution, except for touch-screen displays, because it seemed too difficult to replicate what analog haptic devices – or human touch – can produce," says electrical and computer engineering professor Deli Wang. In addition to uses in health and medicine, the communication of touch signals could have far-reaching implications for education, robotics, gaming, and military applications. The researchers demonstrated the electronic recording of touch contact and pressure using an active-matrix pressure sensor array made of transparent zinc-oxide, thin-film transistors. The companion tactile feedback display used an array of diaphragm actuators made of an acrylic-based dielectric elastomer with the structure of an interpenetrating polymer network. The polymer actuators' actuation - the force and level of displacement - are modulated by adjusting both the voltage and charging time.