Tactile soft sensor can turn anything into a controller

The thin, rubbery sensor can be programmed to control everything from computers to TVs.

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a soft sensor toolkit that could pave the way for more tactile wearables. Tragically dubbed "iSoft," the thin, rubbery device reacts to continuous movement, including touch and stretch controls. With its accompanying software platform, you can customize it to interact with everything from gamepads to televisions and phones. We've already seen Google and Levis team up on a smart jacket that lets you control newer handsets using gestures and haptic feedback. According to its creators, this latest sensor offers a low-cost way to get tactile tech into the hands of the masses.

"The novel part of iSoft is that it does not need any wiring or electronics within the material," said Karthik Ramani, director of Purdue University's C Design Lab. "The platform provides the ability to create and customize soft sensors. Even if you have no professional knowledge of electronics you can modify any object with it, including objects with complex shapes."

The iSoft sensor is made of a "piezoresistive" carbon-filled silicone rubber, which when touched changes electrical resistance to provide sensing data. Meanwhile, an algorithm allows the sensor to continuously interact with interfaces even while it's being stretched or deformed. But, there's still a while to go before the toolkit sees the light of day. For now, Purdue University's Office of Technology Commercializtion has a filed a patent for the iSoft. The researchers will dish more details at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) in Quebec City, Canada, tomorrow.