Of the five senses, the one we quite possibly use the most is the sense of touch, which we would not have if not for our skin. Currently there is no technological equivalent to human skin, but researchers are working on it for use in robots and other devices. Now those at the University of California, Berkeley have developed the first interactive electronic skin and perhaps it will lead to more sensitive robots.
The e-skin samples the researchers built are 16 x 16 pixels, and each pixel contains a transistor, pressure sensor, and OLED. The inclusion of the OLED is important as sensors have been integrated into networks before; it is the interactivity that makes this discovery a breakthrough. To build the network the researchers start with a layer of polymer atop a silicon wafer. Using fabrication tools used in the semiconductor industry, the researchers then construct the electronic components, building them up vertically. With that done, the polymer just has to be peeled from the wafer with the network intact.
While a sensitive and interactive e-skin may be most obviously useful for robots, the researchers envision other uses as well, including wallpapers that can operate as touchscreens. As the production of the e-skin is compatible with techniques used in the semiconductor industry, we may see it entering products before too long.