In addition to improving robotics, the sensor could one day be embedded into the "electronic skin" of prosthetics, to help amputees sense environmental changes, Fox News reported.
Study author Hossam Haick, a professor of chemical engineering and nanotechnology at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa said that the sensor is "a huge step towards imitating the sensing features of the human skin."
The device is about 10 times closer to how real human skin senses the environment, compared with other designs.
To make the device, the researchers integrated gold nanoparticles covered with organic connector molecules, called ligands, into the surface of a plastic commonly used to make water bottles.
The system has a flowerlike arrangement, with a layer of gold in the center, and the ligands forming the "petals."
When the plastic is bent or pressed upon, the nanoparticles inside shift, and the distances between them change.
This shift affects how quickly electrons can pass between the particles, altering the electrical characteristics of the sensor.
This means that in addition to being used in prosthetics and giving a humanlike "sense of touch" to robots, the sensor could be used in an early warning system to detect abnormal temperatures and tiny cracks in airplanes, bridges and other structures.
Another possible application could be to monitor people's health.
The study is published in the journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.