Soft wireless e-skin for interactive touch communication in the virtual world — ScienceDaily

It may be possible in the near future to detect a hug from each other via the internet. A research team led by the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) recently developed a soft wireless e-skin that can detect and deliver the sense of touch, and form a touch network that allows one-to-many interaction. It provides a great resource for enhancing distance communication immersion.

“With the rapid development of virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), our visual and auditory senses are not enough to create an immersive experience. Touch communication could be a revolution for us to interact across the metaverse,” said Dr. Yu XingeAssociate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at CityU.

Although there are many haptic interfaces in the market to simulate tactile sensing in the virtual world, they only provide tactile or haptic sensing feedback. The uniqueness of the novel e-skin is that it can perform self-sensing and haptic reproduction functions on the same interface.

A skin patch device provides integrated functions for touch sensing and haptic reproduction

The e-skin contains 16 flexible actuators (cum sensors) in a 4 X 4 series, a microcontroller unit (MCU), a Bluetooth module and other electronics on a flexible circuit board. All components are assembled into a 7cm X 10cm device, which resembles a 4.2mm-thick skin patch.

The button-like actuator, comparable in size to a HK 10-cent coin, acts as a central part of the e-skin. Each of the actuators consists of a flexible coil, a soft silicone support, a magnet and a thin film of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), which fulfills the functions of touch detection and haptic feedback based on electromagnetic induction.

When the actuator is pressed and released by an external force, a current is induced to provide electrical signals for tactile sensing to a corresponding actuator in another computer skin patch. The deeper the conductor pushes, the stronger and longer the sensation generated on the other e-skin.

The electrical signal generated from the actuators is converted to a digital signal by an analog to digital converter on the circuit board of the e-skin patch. The data is then transmitted to the actuators on another e-skin via Bluetooth.

When the signal is received, a current is induced to reproduce the haptic feedback on the e-skin of the receiver through mechanical vibration. The process can be reversed to deliver vibrations from the receiver’s e-skin to the transmitter’s corresponding actuator.

Although each actuator can only perform one task at a time, the rest of the 15 actuators on the e-skin can complement each other and fulfill the function of sensory or haptic reproduction, allowing the patch to -achieve bidirectional touch transmission skin at the same time.

Touch IoT offers a wide range of possible applications

“Our e-skin can communicate with Bluetooth devices and transmit data through the internet with smartphones and computers to make long-distance touch transmission, and to form an Internet of Things (IoT) touch system, where face to face and face-to-face. Friends and families in different places could use it to ‘feel’ each other,” said Dr. Yu. “This kind of touch transcends the boundaries of space and greatly reduces all understanding in human communication.”

Next, the research team will focus on practical applications for visually impaired people, who could wear the e-skin to receive remote guidance and read Braille messages.

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