Scientists have developed a new touch technology that could allow phones, wearables or computers to feel sensations such as tickling, caressing, twisting, and pinching like real human skin. Researchers in Bristol and Paris have made an artificial skin-like membrane for augmenting interactive devices as part of a new interface.
“This is the first time we have the opportunity to add skin to our interactive devices. The idea is perhaps a bit surprising, but the skin is an interface we are highly familiar with so why not use it and its richness with the devices we use every day?” said Dr Anne Roudaut, Associate Professor in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Bristol, who supervised the research.
The “Skin-On” interface mimics human skin in not only sensing resolution but also in appearance. The multi-layer silicone membrane is made up of a surface textured layer, an electrode layer of conductive threads and a hypodermis layer. The silicon membrane mimics the layers present in human skin.
Researchers say that the artificial skin not only looks more natural than a rigid casing but can also detect a plethora of gestures made by the end-users. Thus, the artificial skin allows devices to “feel” the user’s grasp along with its pressure and location. The interface can also detect “interactions such as tickling, caressing, even twisting and pinching”.
“Artificial skin has been widely studied in the ﬁeld of Robotics but with a focus on safety, sensing or cosmetic aims. This is the first research we are aware of that looks at exploiting realistic artiﬁcial skin as a new input method for augmenting devices,” said Marc Teyssier, lead author of the study.
In the study, researchers created a phone case, computer touchpad and smartwatch to demonstrate how touch gestures on the Skin-On interface can convey expressive messages for computer-mediated communication with humans or virtual characters.
Teyssier said that one of the main use of smartphones is mediated communication that uses text, voice, video, or a combination. So they made a messaging application where users can express their emotions on the artiﬁcial skin. The intensity of the touch controls the size of the emojis, a strong grip conveys anger, tickling the skin displays a laughing emoji, and tapping creates a surprised emoji.
Researchers say that the next step will be to make the skin more realistic. They have already started looking at embedding hair and temperature features which could add goose-bumps to devices in addition to skin sensations.
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