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This invention could turn your body into a touch sensitive control panel for your phone

Touching a screen to control your smart device could one day be a thing of the past, and you’ll interact with them by touching areas on your body instead. That’s the vision of scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, who have come up with an innovation they call iSkin, where pressure-sensitive sensors are hidden beneath a thin silicone rubber layer placed over the top of your skin.

The project is a spin-off from research dedicated to creating prosthetic limbs that can sense and feel, and from synthetic skin developed to help robots do the same. For iSkin, the sensor is made from a special silicone layer with carbon particles running through it — which can be incorporated into cool tattoo style designs — that’s placed between two clear silicone layers, ready to be applied to the skin.

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Martin Weigel, a co-developer of the project, said iSkin is flexible and stretchable, and will allow manufacturers to explore new design possibilities. The sensor can be used for various functions, such as controlling a music player, and for keyboards. The Institute has made a demonstration video showing the potential alternative uses for iSkin, in which it’s used as a roll-out keyboard for a smartwatch, and a behind-the-ear call answering control.

The prototype is still at an early stage, and is connected up to a computer using wires, but in the future, as technology moves on, it could change to use its own integrated control system. Additionally, Weigel would like to see a kinetic energy recovery system power the iSkin, avoiding battery complications, and meaning it would never have to be removed and charged up.

There are no plans at the institute to go beyond the prototype stage with iSkin, and some significant steps forward in the technology that it uses are needed for it to become practical. However, it’s hoped that by seeing what’s possible now, the project will inspire companies to adopt the iSkin idea and make it real.