Scientists Develop Artificial Skin That Allows You To Feel In VR

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The self-sensing material forms to a user’s body, providing next-level haptic feedback. 

According to an article published last week to the journal of Soft Robotics, scientists based out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland, have developed a skin-like material that, when worn over a users’ body, simulates a far more realistic sense of touch than that of current haptic feedback technologies.

Referred to as “Closed-Loop Haptic Feedback Control Using a Self-Sensing Soft Pneumatic Actuator Skin,” the device is composed of a stretchable material only 500 nanometers thick, allowing it to form to a users body and provide more detailed touch feedback. Lined with a series of pneumatic actuators, the ultra-compliant thin-metal film strain sensor creates a tactile sense via vibratory feedback. 

This layer of membrane can be altered to various pressures and frequencies by pumping air into it; by delating and inflating the membrane rapidly, the skin begins to shake. Sitting on top of the membrane is a sensor filled with electrodes that track the deformation of the skin and reports its findings back to a microcontroller which in turn controls the haptic sensations. 

“This is the first time we have developed an entirely soft artificial skin where both sensors and actuators are integrated,” says Harshal Sonar, the study’s lead author, in the article. “This gives us closed-loop control, which means we can accurately and reliably modulate the vibratory stimulation felt by the user. This is ideal for wearable applications, such as for testing a patient’s proprioception in medical applications.”

Put simply, the “skin” uses pressure triggered by inflated membranes to create a far more realistic sense of touch when compared to current haptic feedback technology, which primarily relies upon conventional vibration technology to replicate a general sense of impact. It can also be stretched up to four times its size for up to roughly 1M cycles. 

Scientists Develop Artificial Skin That Allows You To Feel In VR 1
Image Credit: EHFPL

“The next step will be to develop a fully wearable prototype for applications in rehabilitation and virtual and augmented reality,” adds Sonar. “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.”

No word on when we can expect to see this technology used in commercial devices, though it’s sure to add a whole new level of realism to future immersive experiences.

Feature Image Credit: EHFPL





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