The flexible pressure-sensing material can be used to create pressure-sensing gloves

Bendable nanofibre pressure sensor measures twisted objects

A nanofibre-based flexible sensor developed by Japanese and American researchers can measure pressure changes around twisted, round and wrinkled surfaces.

The device, only eight micrometres thick, can measure pressure in 144 locations at once and could theoretically be embedded into pressure-sensing gloves that could be used by physicians to examine human bodies. Such gloves could be used by a doctor to examine a patient’s breast for signs of any lumps that could indicate breast cancer, for example.

The ability to accurately sense pressure changes around surfaces that are not perfectly smooth is a major improvement compared to existing technology.

"Flexible electronics have great potential for implantable and wearable devices,” said Sungwon Lee from the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Engineering. “I realised that many groups are developing flexible sensors that can measure pressure, but none of them are suitable for measuring real objects since they are sensitive to distortion.”

The new sensor consists of organic transistors, organic electronic switches based on oxygen and carbon and a pressure-sensitive nanofibre structure. The nanofibres, 300 to 700 nanometres thick, contain wonder material graphene added into an elastic polymer.

The sensor can accurately measure pressure distribution of rounded surfaces and maintains its sensitivity even when bent over a radius of 80 micrometres.

"We've also tested the performance of our pressure sensor with an artificial blood vessel and found that it could detect small pressure changes and speed of pressure propagation," Lee said.

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