A new wearable ‘haptic skin’ system has been developed, with researchers saying it’s positive for the future of human-machine interactions and promises a “more vivid touching experience” in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
WeTac, developed at Hong Kong’s City University, is dubbed as ‘electronic skin’ that fits snugly over the hand and is made from rubbery hydrogel. The mainly see-through WeTac has 32 electrodes placed across the hand-covering area, which produce tactile sensations from electronic currents based on feedback from VR and AR experiences linked via Bluetooth.
There are many haptic glove devices for sale already, largely aimed at VR and AR gamers. However, WeTac, which is powered by a small battery attached to the user’s forearm, is designed to look and feel more like a second skin than an item of clothing.
“Existing haptic interfaces worn on the hand are usually bulky, rigid and tethered by cables, which is a hurdle for accurately and naturally providing haptic feedbacks,” the researchers wrote in the Nature Machine Intelligence journal.
Meanwhile, other ‘electronic skin’ devices that have been developed recently tend to be for robots to use, rather than humans. An Edinburgh-based company named Touchlab is developing ‘robot skin’ that can be wrapped around any surface.
The WeTac researchers said that their haptic electronic skin, which is not available commercially as it continues to be developed, can already simulate sensations on the hand such as catching a ball and having a mouse crawl across your skin.
These sensations can reportedly be accurately controlled and adjusted based on personal feedback from the user, when they interact with virtual objects in VR or AR.
“This technique is promising for a more vivid touching experience in the virtual world and in human–machine interactions,” they added.
There is no suggestion that the researchers are developing WeTac with sextech in mind specifically, but the potential is obvious, even discounting the ‘catching a ball’ sensation ability already chalked up by the device.
Indeed, when it comes to human-machine interactions, any haptic hand device that won’t feel like you’re wearing massive crickets gloves is probably a step in the right direction.
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