Finnish tech start-up Canatu has developed a conductive film made from carbon "nanobuds" – molecular tubes of carbon with a bud-like end – which could turn almost any surface into a touchscreen. The transparent, flexible film can be used to create anything from touch-sensitive earphones to interactive car dashboards, says Canatu.
"Canatu's next-generation touch technology enables touch sensors to fold over edges, bend or flex around the device, and withstand tight bending angles without losing high conductivity," the firm says on its website.
Traditionally, touchscreens are created by overlaying a display screen with a sheet of indium tin oxide. However, this material is very brittle, meaning this method only works on a flat surface.
In recent years, researchers have been experimenting with individual carbon nanotubes because they conduct electricity well. However, they seem to have poor electrical connections with each other – a problem not found with carbon nanobuds. Canatu has also found a way to bring down the manufacturing costs of the nanobud film, making it commercially viable for consumer electronics.
The development addresses the growing demand for bendable and flexible touch sensors for use in mobile devices such as wearables. The search for supple screens has led some researchers to consider turning the skin itself into an interactive surface – read more about these so-called "Skin Buttons" here.