Rubber keyboard offers design twist

1 December 2015

Scientists at the University of Auckland have developed a soft, flexible, stretchable keyboard using a type of rubber known as a dielectric elastomer.

DAN 2D Sensor
Credit: Daniel Xu

The results have been reported in the journal Smart Materials and Structures.

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

The keyboard was made from a single laminated structure with two sensing layers oriented at 90 degrees apart. This took advantage of their mechanical coupling while at the same time provided 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,” Xu continues. “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 often used video games to test the functionality of the keyboard, and have made a sensing glove to interface with shooting games as part of a separate project.

Work is now taking place with a spin-off company, StretchSense, to develop wearable and other technologies designed to sense stretch.

The researchers at Biomimetics Lab at the University of Auckland seek inspiration from nature to find creative solutions to engineering problems, and are world leaders in soft sensor research, energy harvesters and human-powered submarines.