Research highlight

Engineering: New virtual-reality device has skin in the game


November 21, 2019

A wireless, touch-sensitive interface that can softly layer over skin is reported in a paper published this week in Nature. This apparatus can communicate information through mechanical vibrations and can be used as a virtual-reality (VR) synthetic skin with applications in social media, prosthetic control and video gaming.

Many previous approaches to create a communicative VR ‘skin’ relied on collections of wired electrodes pressed against the wearer’s body. The electrodes would produce vibrations to simulate sensory experiences. However, finding the appropriate combinations of voltages and currents to create the desired responses without pain or electrically induced lesions on the skin proved challenging.

To produce a more comfortable and flexible interface, John Rogers and colleagues present materials, device structures, power-delivery strategies and communication schemes for a wireless, battery-free platform of electronic systems and wearable, sensitive interfaces. This VR skin is capable of electronically programmable communication and comfortable sensory input to the body via an array of vibrating actuators embedded in a soft, flexible material. The authors demonstrate its ability through a number of applications. For instance, this system can be used to transmit touch to a loved one through social media and to reproduce the shape of an object held in a prosthetic hand, and it can also be worn by video gamers to feel strikes when playing combat video games.

doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1687-0

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