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January 1st, 2008
Nokia, for example, is collaborating with Stéphanie Lacour, of the University of Cambridge's Nanoscience Centre, to develop a way of depositing gold films onto elastomers (elastic polymers), so that such films become stretchy as well as bendable. Normally, a gold film will fracture if stretched by as little as 1-2% of its original length. Dr Lacour's stretchy metal film, however, contains an array of tiny Y-shaped cracks. When it is pulled, the cracks open up and the film remains intact. If silicon chips a few hundred microns across were embedded in the elastomer as well, the film should provide a reliable way of wiring them together to produce a useful electronic device.
Such "stretchable electronic skin", as Nokia dubs it, is intended, initially, to provide a touch-sensitive way of talking to machines. If it were turned into a screen, stabbing your finger harder on an icon on that screen could make something happen faster.
Tapani Ryhänen, Nokia's head of strategic research, suggests that stretchable devices, worn on the body, could be used to detect and transmit information about the wearer, such as to measure emotional states. And what about an entire body suit made from flexible electronics and sensors? That would be the ultimate Nintendo Wii game controller.
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