Surgeons, artists, and others who require above-average tactile skills and dexterity may soon have a tool that enhances their sense of touch. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a glove which applies a small vibration via piezoelectric materials to the side of the fingertip. According to their research, this background vibration – known as “stochastic resonance” – can enhance tactile sensitivity and motor performance.
Stochastic resonance, or white noise, has already been shown to improve other senses such as sight, balance, and hearing and this is the first wearable application of the phenomenon.
According to the press release:
The device uses an actuator made of a stack of lead zirconate titanate layers to generate high-frequency vibration. The ceramic layers are piezoelectric, which means they vibrate when an electrical charge is applied to them. The actuator is attached to the side of the fingertip so that the palm-side of the finger remains free and the individual wearing the glove can continue to manipulate objects.
For this study, the researchers attached the device to 10 healthy adult volunteers who performed common sensory and motor skill tasks, including texture discrimination, two-point discrimination, single-point touch and grasp tests. The experimental results showed that the volunteers performed statistically better on all of the tasks when mechanical vibration was applied.
“All of the experimental results showed that some mechanical vibration was better than none at all, but the level of vibration that statistically improved sensorimotor functions varied by test,” noted Ueda [Jun Ueda, an assistant professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech]
All four sensing ability tests confirmed that the application of certain levels of mechanical vibration enhanced the tactile sensitivity of the fingertip. However, because the levels of vibration that created statistically significant results varied, the researchers are currently conducting experiments to determine the optimal amplitude and frequency characteristics of vibration and the influence of long-term exposure to vibrations. The researchers are also working on optimizing the design of the glove and testing the effect of attaching actuators to both sides of the fingertip or the fingernail.
The technology may also be incorporated into orthopedic devices for patients who have peripheral nerve damage and, hence, a diminished sense of touch.
Flashback: Mechanical Hand With an Extra Sense of Touch