Skin-worn haptics adds a sense of touch to VR

November 22, 2019 //By Julien Happich
Skin-worn haptics adds a sense of touch to VR
Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a new form of laminated haptics that complies with the curved surfaces of the skin, distributing discrete points of actuation easily controlled remotely and wirelessly.

The prototype described as an “epidermal VR” solution in a Nature paper titled "Skin-integrated wireless haptic interfaces for virtual and augmented reality" consists of a 150x150mm flexible laminate embedding an array of 32 miniaturized actuators into soft, flexible silicone. Each of the actuators, measuring about 18mm in diameter and 2.5mm thick, can be individually controlled and powered wirelessly using the same communication protocol used to activate and read out NFC tags.

Device layers. Credit: Northwestern University

Their frequency and amplitude can be adjusted on-the-fly through a specially designed graphical user interface, tailoring the actuation to maximize the sensory perception of the vibratory force delivered to the skin, the authors explain.

Hence, while a remote user would draw a pattern on the touchscreen interface of a smartphone or tablet, that touch pattern would transmit to the array of actuators, reproducing the same sensory pattern, almost simultaneously and in real-time as a vibratory output to the wearer’s skin. The researchers anticipate that their epidermal VR haptic solution could be made slimmer and lighter with more densely packed actuators while also incorporating micro-heaters for thermal inputs.

Eventually, the devices could be thin and flexible enough to be woven into clothes. Along with VR headsets, gamers could wear full VR suits to become fully immersed into fantastical landscapes. "With this wireless power delivery scheme, we completely avoid the need for batteries, with their weight, size, bulk and limited operating lifetimes" explains corresponding author John Rogers, "the result is a thin, lightweight system that can be worn and used without constraint, indefinitely."

Mounted in prosthetics and in direct contact with an amputee’s skin, the actuators provide a "surrogate sense of feeling". "Users develop an ability to sense touch at the fingertips of their prosthetics through the sensory inputs on the upper arm," Rogers explained. "Overtime, your brain can convert the sensation on your arm to a surrogate sense of feeling in your fingertips. It adds a

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