'Skin coated' touch devices to offer new functionality

Researchers have developed a hyper-realistic artificial skin-like membrane for interactive devices, mimicking the appearance of human skin and sensing resolution.

The lifelike coating was developed by researchers at the University of Bristol, UK in partnership with Telecomm ParisTech and Sorbonne University, France to add additional functionality to interactive devices such as computers, touch panels and displays. 

The researchers adopted a multi-layer, bio-driven approach to develop a silicone-based membrane with multiple layers, comprised of a surface textured layer, an electrode layer of conductive threads and a hypodermis layer. 

The casing allows for a variety of end-user made gestures to be integrated, allowing devices fitted with the artificial skin to ‘feel’ the user’s grasp, detecting pressure, location and the ability to detect interactions such as twisting, pinching and tickling.  
Researches created a phone case, computer touch pad and smart watch during the study to demonstrate how touch gestures can be used to convey expressive messages in computer mediated communication with humans or virtual characters. 

Marc Teyssier, lead author of the study, said: “Artificial skin has been widely studied in the field of Robotics but with a focus on safety, sensing or cosmetic aims. This is the first research we are aware of that looks at exploiting realistic artificial skin as a new input method for augmenting devices.” 

The “Skin on” casing uses open source hardware to allow developers to create their custom skin backings for a plethora of devices and are inviting developers with an interest in ‘skin-on’ interfaces to get in touch. 

The researchers aim to make the skin even more realistic in future iterations, exploring the possibility of embedding hair and temperature features.