The soft skin stretch device can recreate the sense of touch. UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES
Video calls are a common occurrence, but have you imagined being able to touch the person on the other end of the line? Scientists are making this a reality.
Researchers at the University of New South Wales, Australia, have invented a soft skin stretch device (SSD), a haptic device that can recreate the sense of touch. Haptic technology mimics the experience of touch by stimulating localized areas of the skin in ways that are similar to what is felt in the real world, through force, vibration or motion.
Vibration is the most common haptic technology today and has been built into many electronic devices, such as one attached to the back of a trackpad in laptops, which simulates a button clicking. However, haptic feedback with vibration becomes less sensitive when used continuously. The existing technology also has great difficulty recreating the sense of touch with objects in virtual environments or located remotely, according to Mai Thanh Thai, lead author of the study.
The new technology overcomes issues with existing haptic devices. The research team introduced a novel method to recreate the sense of touch through soft, artificial “muscles”.
“Our three-way directional skin stretch device, built into the fingertips of the wearable haptic glove we also created, is like wearing a second skin – it’s soft, stretchable and mimics the sense of touch – and will enable new forms of haptic communication to enhance everyday activities,” said Thanh Nho Do, senior author of the study.
It works like this: Imagine you are at home and you call your friend who is in Australia. You wear a haptic glove with the SSDs and your friend also wears a glove with integrated 3D force sensors. If your friend picks up an object, it will physically press against your friend’s fingers. And their glove with 3D force sensors will measure these interactions. The force signals can be sent to your glove so your device will generate the same 3D forces, making you experience the same sense of touch as your friend.
The haptic devices could be applied in various scenarios, allowing users to feel objects inside a virtual world or at a distance. This could be especially beneficial during such times like the COVID-19 pandemic when people rely on video calls to stay connected with loved ones. Or it could be used in medical practices. Doctors can feel a patient’s organ tissues with surgical tools without touching them.