One application that comes to mind is the potential ability to unlock smartphones by having it scan your fingerprint.
The underlying concept is rather simple, even though the execution is far more involving. This technology, known as piezo-phototronics, starts by growing zinc oxide nanowires atop a gallium nitride film. It sort of resembles those Pin Art toys.
These nanowires act like LED lights when they’re placed under strain, like if a finger were to press down on them. When a nanowire is pressed, it lights up. Otherwise it stays off. The harder they’re pushed on, the brighter they get. The light signal itself can be registered and transmitted for processing and analysis.
There are, of course, more parts to this technology involving substrate molds, applied voltages, background filters, etc. Researches have found that the output light can be read at the same time that pressure is applied, which provides a seriously fast response time.
“You can write with your pen and the sensor will optically detect what you write at high resolution and with a very fast response rate,” said Zhong Lin Wang, Regents’ professor and Hightower Chair in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech.
“This is a new principle for imaging force that uses parallel detection and avoids many of the complications of existing pressure sensors.”
Obviously, a lot more testing and research will have to be done before this type of technology makes it into consumer products. Though considering the growth rate of technology, it may be closer than we think.
If you’re interested in reading the full journal article in all of its scientific and technical glory, you can access it here. It’s pretty neat stuff for those who want a peek into the near future.