A synthetic skin to “feel” in virtual reality – Geeko

A team of researchers from the University of Hong Kong has just developed a synthetic skin for virtual reality. More sensitive and less cumbersome.

Virtual reality (VR) is an immersive experience. At least in theory. In practice, the experience is never total. Indeed, virtual reality devices strive to deceive mainly two senses. Sight, and hearing. A few attempts have been made to replicate the touch, but the devices completely break immersion due to their bulky nature.

However, this may soon change. Researchers from the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) have been working on an alternative that looks a lot like artificial skin.

Lightweight, wireless and portable

Called WeTac, this cutaneous VR system works “like a second skin”, according to Dr. Yu Xinge, director of research. Wireless and ultra-flexible, this solution takes current haptic gloves against the grain. As a reminder, the latter often carry pumps and unwieldy air ducts, in addition to being supplied with a battery of cables. The bet of the researchers was therefore to develop an electrotactile system.

Concretely, WeTac consists of two main parts. On the one hand, a miniaturized control unit (5×5 cm) is attached to the forearm as a control panel. At the same time, electrodes are distributed over the entire hand thanks to an artificial skin one millimeter thick. This is made up of hydrogel for the most part and sticks to the hand without hindering the user’s movements.

Variable sensitivity

In summary, the electrodes provide the stimulation necessary to reproduce the interactions with the objects present in virtual reality. However, the device does not just apply the same pressure to all objects. Thus, the user can feel different degrees of intensity depending on what he touches. Best of all, sensitivity varies from user to user. “The same feedback force can be felt differently in the hands of different users”says Dr Yu. “So we need to customize the feedback settings to provide a universal tool for all users and eliminate a major problem with current haptic technology”.

Obviously, the device does not reproduce pain and is content to produce slightly unpleasant sensations. After all, the goal is not to hurt users. Successfully tested in different scenarios (sports, nature, etc.), WeTac is, for the moment, up to expectations. Researchers are even already thinking about other potential applications, outside of VR, such as robotics for example. The road is still long, but the promises are beautiful.

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A synthetic skin to “feel” in virtual reality – Geeko


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