VR touching sensations with wireless systems breakthrough
Researchers at the Northwestern University have brought a physical sense of touch to VR experiences with a thin, wireless system prototype that laminates onto the curved surfaces of the skin.
The system, called an ‘Epidermal VR’ system allows for communication of touch via a programmable array of miniature vibrating actuators which are embedded into a thin, 15cmx15cm sheet-like material without large batteries or wires.
The system was engineered by ‘bioelectronics’ pioneers John A. Rogers, Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Biomedical Engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University and Yonggang Huang, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and professor of mechanical engineering in McCormick at the Northwestern University.
The system adheres to the skin without tape or straps, using 32 individually programmable actuators which generate a sense of touch through the actuators which resonate most strongly at 200 cycles per second, where the skin exhibits the most sensitivity.
The device communicates through near-field communication (NFC) protocols, eliminating the need for wires or batteries.
Rogers said: “People have contemplated this overall concept in the past, but without a clear basis for a realistic technology with the right set of characteristics or the proper form of scalability. Past designs involve manual assemblies of actuators, wires, batteries and combined internal and external control hardware.
“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.”
The frequency can be adjusted alongside the amplitude of each actuator through a graphical interface, with the designs being tailored to deliver sensory perception of the vibratory force delivered to the skin, enabling users to feel varying intensities of sensation based on the firmness of their grip.
The material patch can wirelessly connect to touchscreen interfaces such as a smartphone or a tablet, with the system delivering a pattern of touch to the patch when the user touches the touchscreen in real time.
The VR touch breakthrough offers an extensive array of opportunities for both consumer and commercial applications, ranging from immersive gaming, and long-distance relationships to family video calls and immersive video conferencing with the sensation of physical handshakes.
Huang said: ““We are expanding the boundaries and capabilities of virtual and augmented reality... By comparison to the eyes and the ears, the skin is a relatively underexplored sensory interface that could significantly enhance experiences
You could imagine that sensing virtual touch while on a video call with your family may become ubiquitous in the foreseeable future.”