Several research groups have already developed flexible pressure sensors, but they aren’t practical for many applications because they can’t accurately measure pressure changes once they are bent. A team of researchers from Harvard and the University of Tokyo say they have addressed this shortcoming by developing a thin pressure sensor that is transparent, bendable, and sensitive. This new sensor can measure the pressure of rounded surfaces, while maintaining its accuracy even when it is bent. Therefore, it could be incorporated into gloves that healthcare providers could use in physical exams to screen for cancer by detecting pressure inconsistencies that can indicate tumors.
“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,” says researcher Dr. Sungwon Lee. He explained, “Flexible electronics have great potential for implantable and wearable devices. I realized 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. That was my main motivation and I think we have proposed an effective solution to this problem.”
The sensor consists of nanofibers made from carbon nanotubes and graphene. The entire device—which includes organic transistors, electronic switches made from carbon and oxygen based organic materials, and a pressure sensitive nanofiber structure—measures just eight micrometers thick. It can measure the pressure in 144 locations at once.