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Scientists Develop Artificial Skin That Allows You To Feel In VR

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. Lined with a series of pneumatic actuators, the ultra-compliant thin-metal film strain sensor creates a highy-realistic tactile sense via vibratory feedback.

Put simply, the “skin” uses pressure triggered by inflated membranes to create a sense of touch far more realistic than that of current haptic feedback solutions, which rely primarily on mechanical vibration technology to replicate a sense of impact.

This layer of membrane can be altered to various pressures and frequencies by pumping air into it; deflating and inflating the membrane rapidly will cause the skin to vibrate. Sitting on top of the membrane is a sensor filled with electrodes that track the deformation of the skin and report data back to a microcontroller, which in turn controls the haptic sensations. The material can even be stretched up to four times its size for up to roughly 1M cycles.

People Would Shell Out Money For It. Most people recognize that the best virtual reality headsets cost quite a lot. After all, the best virtual reality experience is worth spending money on. One study found that a majority of consumers would be willing to spend up to $500 for the right virtual reality gear. This is really good news, considering that some of the top headsets for virtual reality cost about $500. There are also plenty of lower-priced ones that can be used for virtual reality as well.

“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.”
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 being used in commercial devices. No doubt that once this technology reaches a more mature state, it’s sure to add a whole new level of realism to future immersive experiences.

Feature Image Credit: EHFPL
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