Flexible displays promise to revolutionize the way we navigate and view electronics much in the way touch-optimized screens have done in the past few years. Although we often see one or the other, we rarely see these ideas paired up; that is, until now.

According to Phys.org, engineers at UC Berkley have developed a new e-skin which responds to touch by accurately measuring changes in pressure. The experimental sample measures just 16x16 pixels, with each pixel’s brightness corresponding to the level of applied pressure. The research team is led by associate professor Ali Javey, and the project is outlined in a new journal titled Nature Materials.

The prototype is currently rudimentary in nature, but its potential uses are boundless. Chuan Wang, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan State University, explained that “integrating sensors into a network is not new, but converting the data obtained into something interactive is the breakthrough.”

Researchers believe that the user-interactive skin will have numerous applications in the cybernetics field, providing robots with a more detailed sense of touch. The technology might also find its way into automobiles as touchscreens become the preferred way to adjust user controls.

From a medical perspective, the flexible sensor network would work well as a way to monitor human vitals. “I could imagine an e-skin bandage applied to an arm as a health monitor that continuously checks blood pressure and pulse rates,” said Wang.

Perhaps the touchscreen’s best characteristic is that it is simple to manufacture and even easier to commercialize. The current system involves curing a thin film of polymer over a silicon base. Once fully hardened, the electronic components are embedded in the material using traditional semiconductor methods. The flexible plastic can then be peeled off of the silicon wafer, leaving the desired product.

Despite the achievement, Javey is not fully satisfied with his e-skin. He hopes to expand its functionality, incorporating temperature and light responsiveness into the final design.