The glass on your smartphone screen doesn’t do a lot right now: it lets pictures and touch input get through, and that’s about it. It may pick up a few extra talents in the future, though. Researchers at Polytechnique Montreal have developed sensors that can sit under the surface of the scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass used in many mobile devices. Their approach etches optical waveguides into the display, letting it track changes in light. As a result, the screen can do things that would normally require either wiring or dedicated sensors. Your phone could check its temperature using light, and the manufacturer could even embed a unique optical pattern into the glass that lets the phone identify itself; it might get much harder to clone a device.
Researchers from a Canadian university and Corning have successfully implanted transparent sensors into the Gorilla Glass used by most smartphones, possibly allowing a future where touchscreens are also sensory devices. Instead of using electricity, however, the two transparent devices—one a conventional temperature sensor, the other a more novel way of authenticating a smartphone—use optical waveguides, funneling photons through glass channels rather than electricity through wires. Raman Kashyap, a professor of electrical engineering at the Polytechnique Montreal in Canada, said it should be possible for manufacturers to begin building in the technology inside of smartphones within a year with “focused development.” “We are actively looking to partner with industry to exploit this technology,” Kashyap says. Each sensor was laser-etched into the glass itself, the first time photonics have been embedded into the rugged, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass, according to a paper published by Optics InfoBase. In fact, the researchers claimed that Gorilla Glass yielded the lowest-measured loss value, the fastest fabrication times, and the longest, high-quality waveguides of any glass. The waveguides used by the researchers took 10 seconds to write on average, they said.