While they’re still expensive to produce, nanotubes (CNTs) have huge potential in a wide range of industries. Their unique properties include incredible strength, thermal conductivity, and electrical conductivity, meaning they can be used as both structural material and as semiconductors. Now, engineers from the University of Delaware have found a new use for them as wearable pressure sensors.

The to the versatility of carbon nanotubes is in how they’re physically structured and then arranged. In this case, the researchers are using them as a thin coating that can be applied to fabric. The carbon nanotube coating is light, flexible, and breathable, so the fabric remains functional as clothing. The coating is also a conductor, and pressure applied to it is easily and precisely measured.

That pressure can be anything from a light touch to tons, and still be measured . That unique capability could make it useful for wearables that detect pressure. For example, the coating could be used in shoes to measure how much force is put on your feet when you walk, and could help athletes avoid injury. The coating has a lot of possible applications, but, like everything made with carbon nanotubes, it’s still too expensive to be practical for the being. More efficient manufacturing should eventually make it feasible.

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