Scientists have created a ‘skin’ that lets you touch virtual objects and even feel a mouse running across your hand.
The so-called WeTac glove-like device improves on existing systems that are bulky and tangled with wires.
A team led by the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) say the wireless haptic interface is worn on the hand, where ultrathin soft skin-like features let it collect ‘tactile sensation data’ to provide a vivid touch experience in the metaverse.
The WeTac patches provide programmable spatio-temporal feedback patterns on the hand, with 32 electrotactile stimulation pixels on the palm instead of the fingertips only.
According to research published in Nature Machine Intelligence, WeTac has been successfully integrated into VR and AR scenarios.
The report says users can feel virtual objects in different scenarios, such as grasping a tennis ball in sports training, touching a cactus, or feeling a mouse running on the hand.
Suggested uses include remote control of robots, sensory regain from prosthetics and even learning the violin.
‘The system has application potential in gaming, sports and skills training, social activities, and remote robotic controls,’ said research leader, Dr Yu Xinge.
‘Touch feedback has great potential, along with visual and audial information, in virtual reality (VR), so we kept trying to make the haptic interface thinner, softer, more compact and wireless, so that it could be freely used on the hand, like a second skin,’
Xinge believes that this invention is a powerful tool for providing ‘virtual touching’ and an inspiration for the development of the metaverse, human-machine interface (HMI) and other fields.
The study says existing haptic gloves rely on bulky pumps and air ducts, powered and controlled through a tangle of cords and cables, which can hinder the immersive experience of VR and augmented reality (AR) users.
The newly developed WeTac overcomes these shortcomings with its soft, ultrathin, skin-integrated wireless electrotactile system.
The system comprises two parts: a miniaturised soft driver unit, attached to the forearm as a control panel, and hydrogel-based electrode hand patch as a haptic interface.
The entire driver unit weighs only 19.2 grams and is small (5cm x 5cm x 2.1mm) enough to be mounted on the arm.
It uses Bluetooth low energy (BLE) wireless communication and a small rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The hand patch is only 220 µm to 1mm thick, with electrodes on the palm.
The study says that it exhibits ‘great flexibility’ and ‘guarantees effective feedback’ in various poses and gestures.
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