New Haptic Technology Promises Remote Sense of Touch for AR, VR Users
Today’s virtual reality experiences are primarily focused on the sense of sight and sound, but a new advancement in the field of haptics promises to bring an immersion-boosting sense of touch to VR technology.
While there have been previous iterations of adult-oriented haptic technology, a recent report in Scientific American has revealed the latest research into flexible and lightweight skin patches that can provide tactile sensations to users while consuming little power. The material is reportedly quite supple, adhering like a wet suit that moves along with the wearer’s body as they move, staying in close contact with the skin.
“If you take a look at what exists today in VR and AR, it consists primarily of auditory and visual channels as the main basis for the sensory experience,” said John A. Rogers, a scientist at Northwestern University who served as part of the patch’s development team. “But we think that the skin itself — the sense of touch — could qualitatively add to your experience that you could achieve with VR, beyond anything that’s possible with audio and video.”
Comprised of multiple, thin layers containing electronics for the near-field communications that powers the device, along with individually activated actuators isolated between silicone sheets, the actuators can be adjusted to deliver stronger or weaker senses of touch, with the whole array being thinner than most mouse pads and backed by a sticky surface much akin to a large Salonpas medicated pain patch.
This flexible form factor provides a wealth of new applications, with the article citing a mother’s virtual stroking of her son’s back in a video chat session, with a wireless patch on his back vibrating in sync with the mother’s touch. While ingredients of the patch have been used in other devices, Rogers’ team has now combined them in a unique manner.
“The miniaturized actuators; the wireless control strategies; the thin, flexible, soft construction; the soft, gentle interface with the skin; the battery-free operation — this is a collection of technology features that we don’t think have been reported in the past,” Rogers added. “When you put them all together, you end up with a completely different type of platform that I think will serve as a really powerful starting point for what could ultimately be a full-body suit where you have maybe 1,000 actuators and they’re all controlled simultaneously, with a form factor that people are actually going to want to use.”
Beyond the patch’s ability to simulate a perpendicular touch, future development may enable it to deliver a twisting motion or change in temperature, pointing the way to nearly limitless further applications across many verticals.
Regardless of the designers’ intended mission, one thing seems certain: the adult industry will find a use for this new technology in a way that will bring people around the globe closer together, in a tangible, “touchy-feely” way — if only in a virtual sense.
The full white paper is available here.