Ipads and smartphones could soon by rolled up and put in your pocket

Sarah Knapton
A new material will allow bendy tablets  - University of British Columbia 

Ipads and smartphones could soon by rolled up and put in your pocket after scientists invented a bendy touchscreen.

Engineers at the University of British Columbia have designed a flexible gel-like material embedded with sensors which pick up touch even when squished out of shape.

The material could be allow electronics devices to become bendable, or be used for clothing or smartwear, laid on roads and pavements to detect accidents or wrapped around steering wheels.

Past attempts to invent flexible touchscreens have failed because the material struggled to distinguish between touch and stretch, or to operate well while being deformed. However the new material continued to work when completely folded in half,  and even after a coffee spill.

Prof John Madden and Mizra Saquib Sarwar Credit: University of British Columbia 

“The technology we are working on is a flexible, stretchable touch sensor that can also detect proximity of a finger and that will allow handheld devices to be stretchable, flexible, bendable and even rollable,” said doctoral student Mizral Saquib Sarwar.

“If you imagine you have a big tablet and once you are done with it you will be able to roll it up or fold it and put it in your pocket or your purse. Foldable electronics is definitely the next big thing.

“This will open up a whole new horizon of possibilities in human computer interactions.”

The material can be bent in half Credit: University of British Columbia 

The materials costs just 80p per square meter so it would be cheap and easy to scale up, say the engineers.

Tests showed the touchpad could also detect multiple fingers simultaneously which is necessary for a typical zoom in on a smartphone.

Prof John Madden added: “This is part of larger effort to create wearable devices and to create robotic skins

“One of the attractive features is that it uses two materials that are extremely low in cost. It allows us to put sensors everywhere throughout the house and over the surface of the body. “

The research was published in the journal Science Advances