Swiss researchers have developed a new artificial skin that could potentially be used in combination with virtual and augmented reality systems to provide wearers with the ability to feel their digital environment through haptic feedback.
The “skin” is described as soft, flexible and durable thanks to being made out of silicone and flexible electrodes. It can be stretched up to four times its original length for a million cycles, giving it the strength it needs for real-world applications. According to lead study author Harshal Sonar, it’s the first development of its kind where both sensors and actuators are integrated.
Haptic feedback is delivered through pressure and vibrations courtesy of soft pneumatic actuators that can be inflated with air up to 100 times per second. The artificial skin vibrates when rapidly inflated and deflated. Sensors in the skin can detect deformations and adapt to the wearer’s movements as well as changes in external factors. The device continuously measures stimulation and adjusts in real time to replicate the sensitivity of human touch.
Initial testing has been done with a small implementation that could be worn on a subject’s finger, though Sonar says the next step is to develop a “fully wearable prototype” for broader use case scenarios. Along with possible applications in enhancing the immersion of virtual and augmented reality, it’s thought that the creation could be used for medical rehabilitation such as testing a patient’s proprioception (sense of self-movement and body position).
“It can be used to stimulate the human body while researchers study dynamic brain activity in magnetic resonance experiments,” Sonar said. “This gives us closed-loop control, which means we can accurately and reliably modulate the vibratory stimulation felt by the user.”