Cornell skin

We are constantly moving toward technology that is more like us, whether it’s the ability to “understand” and win a complex game like Go, or to create a humanoid device to interact with us as a caregiver or companion. And we will need to move beyond buttons and glass screens in order to interact more naturally with these devices.

Researchers at Cornell have come up with an intriguing material that could have applications for everything from interactive clothing to robots and more. They have created a soft “skin” that glows, and that can be stretched to five times its original length. Using the same electroluminescent technology as many nightlights — light-emitting capacitor — the skin glows brighter when touched. The color of the emitted light can be adjusted by adding chemicals to the phosphors. The material is made using hydrogels, which make it soft to the touch and very flexible; you can roll it up and it still functions.

By lighting up different regions, the skin can change color or display information. The changes in capacitance when touched can be used as an input to control other devices, making it suitable for use on robots or prosthetic limbs. It is an intriguing material that could spark the development of a variety of new applications and devices.