Wearable skin that lets you touch virtual objects

Wearable skin that lets you touch virtual objects

Researchers from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Northwestern University have created a battery-free, wireless and multi-layered material that allows users to feel vibrations through the skin thanks to sensors, actuators and a chip. Constructed from silicone, the soft-textured skin essentially enables the sense of being touched by someone who isn’t actually there.

Though we are now used to VR and AR providing experiences through visual and auditory stimulation which recreates sounds and visual sights, the other senses have been notoriously difficult to recreate in VR and AR. Because sound and light are wave-based frequencies they can easily be digitised and although augmenting the sense of taste is still in the early stages of research, it has been somewhat successful by using electrical signals.

Touch, however, has proved more difficult to recreate. The researchers behind the project explain that while skin hasn’t yet been widely explored within tech, it can “greatly enhance experiences at a qualitative level, with direct relevance in areas such as communications, entertainment and medicine.”

Developing this innovative technology could enhance medical advances in the future – for example by enabling better prosthetic control through a stronger sense of touch, or ‘touching’ – such as holding hands at a distance. Likewise, it could allow VR gamers to feel strikes and pushes while playing, or ‘touch’ objects within the game.

In addition, Swiss researchers are creating an artificial skin which at 500 nanometers thick is less obtrusive and more sophisticated than existing haptic feedback systems – giving VR gamers a sense-filled experience.

Lead author of the Swiss research paper, Harshal Sonar, says: “The next step will be to develop a fully wearable prototype for applications in rehabilitation and virtual and augmented reality. The prototype will also be tested in neuroscientific studies, where it can be used to stimulate the human body while researchers study dynamic brain activity in magnetic resonance experiments.”

An impressive touch.