Researchers develop new flexible, stretchable keyboard made of rubber

Imagine your keyboard can bend in half, stretch out, or even drop without breaking.  Well, it is now. Scientists at the University of Auckland have developed a soft, flexible, stretchable keyboard using a type of rubber known as a dielectric elastomer.

“Imagine a world where you drop something, and it bounces back without any damage” said Daniel Xu, an author of the paper. “That’s the benefit of these rubber devices that can flex and stretch.”

Daniel Xu with 2D sensor. (Image Credit: (c) Andreas Tairych, CC BY SA)
Daniel Xu with 2D sensor. (Image Credit: (c) Andreas Tairych, CC BY SA)

The Auckland team created the keyboard from a single laminated structure that has two sensing layers oriented at 90º apart. The two layers made it possible to engage in mechanical coupling while still providing an electrical separation. A total of nine different positions were distinguished within the sensor keyboard.

“A key benefit of our keyboard is that essentially, it’s just a thin sheet of rubber. It can be wrapped around any object which turns it into a keyboard,” said Xu. “It can also be made into a sensing skin for motion capture, which is useful for athletes, clinicians, and for new interactive gesture controllers.”

The researchers tested the keyboard’s functionality by playing video games. (As part of a separate project they have even made a sensing glove for interfacing with shooting games).

The team is now working with spin-off company StretchSense, that will now develop wearables and other technologies made of the material that will also be able to stretch.

The results were reported in the journal Smart Materials and Structures.

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