Printable sensors

March 22, 2010
The sensor recognizes the finger's heat signal without being touched. Credit: Joanneum Research Forschungsgesellschaft mbH

In the future every home will have one: electronic devices that you can control just by pointing a finger. To turn this vision into reality the 3Plast research consortium is developing special sensors that can be printed onto plastic film and affixed to objects.

The cellphone is switched off but immediately springs into action at the point of a finger. It is not necessary to touch the display. This touchless control is made possible by a polymer sensor affixed to the cellphone which, like , reacts to the tiniest fluctuations in temperature and differences in pressure and recognizes the finger as it approaches.

The scenario is fictitious at present but could become reality in a few years time thanks to the efforts of the research scientists involved in the EU project 3Plast, which stands for "Printable pyroelectrical and piezoelectrical large area sensor technology". The companies and institutes involved from industry and research have set themselves the goal of mass producing pressure and temperature which can be cheaply printed onto plastic film and flexibly affixed to a wide range of everyday objects, such as electronic equipment. The 2.2 million euro funded project is coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC in Würzburg.

"The sensor consists of pyroelectrical and piezoelectrical polymers which can now be processed in high volumes by screen printing, for example. The sensor is combined with an organic transistor, which strengthens the sensor signal. It's strongest where the finger is," explains Gerhard Domann, who is in charge of the project. "The special thing about our sensor is that the transistor can also be printed."

The production of polymer sensors still poses a number of challenges. To produce printable , the insulation materials have to be very thin. The experts at the ISC have, however, succeeded in producing an which is only 100 nanometers thick. The first sensors have already been printed onto film. The research scientists are currently working on optimized transistors which can amplify rapid changes in temperature and pressure.

"By providing everyday objects with information about their environment - for example whether a person is approaching - by means of pressure and temperature sensors, we can create and market new devices that can be controlled just by pointing a finger," enthuses Domann. The research scientist envisions further applications for the technology in the automotive and construction industries as well as in robotics. "The project comes to an end in January 2011, but we think it will take a few more years before sensors can be printed on large surfaces."

Explore further: Eyeing the future of ubiquitous computing

Related Stories

Eyeing the future of ubiquitous computing

December 5, 2004

A future in which computers become pervasive, unobtrusive and almost invisible is being brought a step closer by EYES, an IST programme-funded project addressing many of the challenges of creating the sensor networks needed ...

Sensor of plastic can be produced in a printing press

February 8, 2005

Electrochemical transistors made of plastic open myriad possibilities. Since both electrons and ions are active, they can function as a bridge between traditional electronics and biological systems. A new dissertation from ...

World's Smallest 2.0µm-Pixel MOS Image Sensor

February 9, 2005

Panasonic, the leading brand by which Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. is known, today announced the development of the world's smallest image sensor. The revolutionary MOS image sensor has only 2.0 × 2.0 μm ...

Tampa Bay Becomes "Smart Bay" With Well-Placed Sensors

August 17, 2005

A demonstration in July in which scientists and engineers from the University of South Florida placed sophisticated, small, rugged sensors at strategic points in Tampa Bay and downloaded data from them wirelessly illustrated ...

Printable biofuel cell developed in Finland

November 8, 2006

An enzyme-based power source is a viable source of electricity for the rapidly proliferating RFID tags used in the medical sector and logistics. Applications include plasters containing a memory circuit and measuring electrode ...

Position sensors: magnets know their place

February 25, 2008

Non-contact position sensors are small but important parts of many modern machines. Researchers have used a phenomenon known as magnetoresistance to develop a practical, low-cost position sensor that performs better than ...

Recommended for you

Drone market to hit $10 billion by 2024: experts

October 3, 2015

The market for military drones is expected to almost double by 2024 to beyond $10 billion (8.9 billion euros), according to a report published Friday by specialist defence publication IHS Jane's Intelligence Review.

Radio frequency 'harvesting' tech unveiled in UK

September 30, 2015

An energy harvesting technology that its developers say will be able to turn ambient radio frequency waves into usable electricity to charge low power devices was unveiled in London on Wednesday.

Professors say US has fallen behind on offshore wind power

September 29, 2015

University of Delaware faculty from the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE), the College of Engineering and the Alfred Lerner School of Business and Economics say that the U.S. has fallen behind in offshore wind ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.