Cuttable, Foldable Sensors Can Add Multi-Touch To Any Device

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Researchers at the MIT Media Lab and the Max Planck Institutes have created a foldable, cuttable multi-touch sensor that works no matter how you cut it, allowing multi-touch input on nearly any surface.

In traditional sensors the connectors are laid out in a grid and when one part of the grid is damaged you lose sensitivity in a wide swathe of other sensors. This system lays the sensors out like a star which means that cut parts of the sensor only effect other parts down the line. For example, you cut the corners off of a square and still get the sensor to work or even cut all the way down to the main, central connector array and, as long as there are still sensors on the surface, it will pick up input.
Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 9.45.35 AM
The team that created it, Simon Olberding, Nan-Wei Gong, John Tiab, Joseph A. Paradiso, and Jürgen Steimle, write:

This very direct manipulation allows the end-user to easily make real-world objects and surfaces touch interactive,
to augment physical prototypes and to enhance paper craft. We contribute a set of technical principles for the design of printable circuitry that makes the sensor more robust against cuts, damages and removed areas. This includes
novel physical topologies and printed forward error correction.

You can read the research paper here but this looks to be very useful in the DIY hacker space as well as for flexible, wearable projects that require some sort of multi-touch input. While I can’t imagine we need shirts made of this stuff, I could see a sleeve with lots of inputs or, say, a watch with a multi-touch band.

Don’t expect this to hit the next iWatch any time soon – it’s still very much in prototype stages but definitely looks quite cool.