3D printed electronics on the way?
Researchers in the UK are developing new materials which could one day allow people to print out bespoke personal electronic devices such as games console controllers which perfectly fit their hand shape.
A team from the University of Warwick has created a simple and inexpensive conductive plastic composite that can be used to produce electronic devices using the latest generation of low cost 3D printers.
The material, nicknamed 'carbomorph', enables users to lay down electronic tracks and sensors as part of a 3D printed structure – allowing the printer to create touch sensitive areas for example, which can then be connected to a simple electronic circuit board.
Dr Simon Leigh from the university's Department of Engineering, who led the team, said: "In the long term, this technology could revolutionise the way we produce the world around us, making products such as personal electronics a lot more individualised and unique and in the process reducing electronic waste.
"Designers could also use it to understand better how people tactilely interact with products by monitoring sensors embedded into objects."
In the short term, Dr Leigh sees the technology having a major impact in the educational sector, allowing the next generation of young engineers to design high tech devices and products in the classroom.
So far the team has used the material to print objects with embedded flex sensors or with touch sensitive buttons, such as computer game controllers and a mug which can tell how full it is.
The next step is to work on printing more complex structures and electronic components including the wires and cables required to connect the devices to computers.
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