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MIT’s new sensor-loaded duct tape makes DIY electronics a snap

When it comes to the maker movement, anyone without hardcore DIY electronics knowledge or some basic programming skills is left in the dust. That’s why a team of researchers at the MIT Media Lab’s Responsive Environments group set out to create a simple way for regular people to incorporate basic circuitry into their daily lives. The team’s creation, called SensorTape, is like basically high-tech duct tape – it’s a roll of electrical circuits that you can cut, shape, and use to your heart’s desire, without any fancy tech skills.

SensorTape is simple to understand if you think of it as a repeating pattern of circuitry printed onto a roll of tape. There are clear lines printed onto the tape so that you know where it’s safe to make cuts (with basic house scissors) without damaging the circuitry. The directive lines allow for straight or diagonal cuts, so reassembly into new shapes is easier. Unfortunately, reassembling the separated pieces of SensorTape will require either conductive tape to continue the current, or some soldering skills to re-establish the node connections.

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Each node in the electronic pattern communicates with its neighbor, so nodes along a length of activated SensorTape can form 3D models of the shape they take. With those 3D data models feeding into software applications, there’s no shortage of uses for SensorTape. Want to make your own DIY posture monitor that automatically pauses your streaming video when you slouch? What about creating a SensorTape doorframe so that when you enter a certain room in your house, your lights turn on automatically? With the right programming, SensorTape can totally make that happen

In the future, SensorTape’s creators think that their product could replace modern Hollywood motion capture techniques. Instead of trackable suits covered in tennis balls, SensorTape clothing could create seamless movement tracking. Of course, they also see many short-term uses for SensorTape, mostly in the hands of fixers and doers who like to get handy around the house but don’t have advanced technology skills to work with Arduino, for example.

The current SensorTape prototype was made by a Chinese manufacturing company, so it’s safe to assume mass production isn’t too far off. When it does hit the market, SensorTape’s creators expect the product to cost between $100 and $200 per meter. And instead of trying to bring down the price for the more wallet-friendly DIY range, the MIT engineers behind SensorTape want to ramp up its functionality. They envision computing units that could be as powerful as they are long, or even full textiles manufactured with SensorTape embedded in the fabric.