Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a thin, wireless system that adds the sense of touch to the virtual reality (VR) experience.
Using 15cm by 15cm sheet-like prototypes, the researchers were able to communicate touch through a programmable array of miniature vibrating actuators embedded in the soft, flexible material.
“We leveraged our knowledge in stretchable electronics and wireless power transfer to put together a superior collection of components, including miniaturized actuators, in an advanced architecture designed as a skin-interfaced wearable device — with almost no encumbrances on the user. We feel that it’s a good starting point that will scale naturally to full-body systems and hundreds or thousands of discrete, programmable actuators,” said Northwestern’s John A. Rogers, a bioelectronics pioneer, in a statement.
The patch is worn on the skin and connects with a touchscreen interface like a phone or tablet. When the user touches the screen, this is transmitted to the patch. When video chatting, friends and family members can reach out and virtually touch each other.
The team explained that this technology is not only a great addition to long-distance relationships but will also be extended to prosthetics for sensory feedback.
“This is our first attempt at a system of this type,” said Rogers. “It could be very powerful for social interactions, clinical medicine and applications that we cannot conceive of today, beyond the obvious opportunities in gaming and entertainment.”
His team are already working on making the device lighter and slimmer, and considering the addition of thermal inputs so users can feel heat as well.
The research will be published on Nov. 21 in the journal Nature.
Image: Northwestern University/Supplied