Next level haptic feedback was always thought to be something like a new wearable glove or a really cool suit, but not many though it would be a new layer of skin you put over your hands. Published in the journal of Soft Robotics, scientists based out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland, the article notes all of the discoveries that the institute has made from the soft skin experiments. This skin-like material is a layer that goes over your skin that gives the sensation of touch much more than any haptic feedback suit can.
It is officially referred to as the “Closed-Loop Haptic Feedback Control Using a Self-Sensing Soft Pneumatic Actuator Skin”, the device is made of a stretchable fabric that is a tiny 500 nanometers thick. This allows it to form to a users body and still maintain a see-through look and feel. It is lined with a series of pneumatic actuators, as the ultra-compliant thin-metal sim sensors create the incredibly realistic tactile sense that is also known as strong vibratory feedback.
The skin uses a pressure triggered mechanism by the inflated membranes to create a sense of touch that is much more immersive than the touch we feel today from haptic suits and gloves. This layer of membrane can be inflated or deflated depending on the need, as the small inflations are what cause the vibrations. They happen at such a rate that you skin can not tell the difference between real touch. Sitting on top of the membrane is a sensor filled with electrodes that are sending information back to the microcontroller. This is responsible for turning haptic sensations up and down, and the can stretch the material nearly five times of what it actually is in surface area.
“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.”
“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.”
Haptics are the key to making virtual relay more immersive and real. If you dabble in virtual reality, you know the best controllers are the ones that give you a sense of realism and touch. The Valve controllers have incredible haptics, and it makes their headset that much better than all the others. There isn’t anything haptics can’t help us feel, and virtual companies inside of the virtual industry are catching up now more than ever. If Soft Robotics have figured it out, it won’t take long for HTC and Oculus to bring it to the consumer shelves.
The journal entry didn’t say whether the technology is going to be sold to third parties for mass production or the use in commercial devices, but that is a real possibility going forward. Whether it be from Soft Robotics or from another company, it is important to know that companies are working on wearable technologies to make virtual reality more immersive and fun than ever. For more VR news and updates, check back at VRGear.com for your daily news.