Swiss researchers have developed soft Artificial Skin
The self-sensing mechanism can be used for varying applications
Of all the five senses that we have, including hearing & vision, the sense of touch is perhaps one of the most important ones in determining how we interact with the world around us. It becomes even more important when we use technology that extends the realms of reality, like Augmented & Virtual Reality.
While these technologies help us in creating an alternative to real-life environments, which have great applications in every industry, the one thing that might be missing from these AR/VR environments is the real-life sense of touch or the ‘haptic feedback.’ Imagine the usefulness of such an innovation in the upcoming human-machine interfaces. This can have wide-ranging implications, especially in the medical field.
Scientists at EPFL’s Reconfigurable Robotics Lab (RRL) and Laboratory for Soft Bioelectronic Interfaces (LSBI) have done just that. They have developed a soft, flexible artificial skin made of silicone and stretchable liquid-solid gallium electrodes.
The artificial skin system of soft sensors and actuators can wrap around the exact shape of the wearer’s wrist or finger to provide haptic feedback in the form of pressure and vibration. The sensation of actually feeling the surface across which a person is moving their hand is created by pumping air in and out of tiny pneumatic actuators contained within the membrane sitting on top of the actual skin.
“The next step will be to develop a fully wearable prototype for applications in rehabilitation and virtual and augmented reality. The prototype will also be tested in neuroscientific studies, where it can be used to stimulate the human body while researchers study dynamic brain activity in magnetic resonance experiments.” ~ Harshal Sonar, lead author of a paper on the study.
A pressure of up to 100 Hz or 100 impulses per second can be applied to the actuators. The skin vibrates when the membrane on top is inflated & deflated rapidly. The sensor layer sitting on top of the membrane measures the deformation in the skin produced by the rapid inflation/deflation and sends it to a microcontroller, which uses this data to replicate the sensation transmitted to the wearer according to the subject’s movements & other external factors.
The material used in creating this artificial skin is pretty flexible — it can be stretched from four times of its normal state up to a million times without failing. A full wearable prototype that can be used in medical rehabilitation & AR/VR techniques is next on the horizon.
The detailed research was published in Soft Robotics journal.