Finnish startup, Canatu, has invented a way to turn almost any surface of any shape into a touch sensor - using transparent films containing carbon nanobuds.
Touch screens are usually created by overlaying a screen with a sheet of indium tin oxide onto the display, and this is the only purpose since the material is brittle and unbendable. However, with this innovation, the film by Canatu can be applied to any surface from as small as the cord for your earphones. This provides some interesting applications including the surface of a car dashboard.
The material is created out of carbon nanobuds, a tube of carbon atoms topped with a bud-like appendage, implanted into the film, emitting electrons and creating a current with the computer system it's added to. The interesting innovation is the stretchability of the material. Erikki Soininen, vice president of marketing and sales, says it can be streched by more than 200% without losing much performance. Most other touch screens stretch by only much less than this, but nanobuds get away with it by moving past each other without losing contact
Initially, Canatu has built its first full-scale manufacturing system, to produce enough film to cover hundreds of thousands of smartphones. Next year they intend to cover millions.
Beyond that, where the technology goes to next is a bit sketchy beyond the intent. The material isn't a good fit for all situations, as the conductivity isn't high enough for huge screens, so don't expect to touch the whole side of a building. But nonetheless, we're looking forward to seeing where this is going.