At the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, researchers have created an interesting artificial “skin” that can sense touch while providing real-time haptic feedback in the form of vibrations. Because the sensors and actuators are completely embedded within this skin, it allows for near simultaneous closed-loop control of the system and makes it usable for a variety of rehab, research, as well as virtual reality and gaming applications.
The e-skin uses silicone as the base material, with flexible electrodes, pneumatic actuators, and a membrane being the major components.
The device uses strain sensors to measure how it is deformed, which can be used in real time by the haptic feedback component, giving developers a way to create a very natural touch-like sensation that can be paired with other technologies such as virtual reality.
The membrane is used to create a chamber that can be inflated and deflated using a tiny pump up to 100 times per second, generating vibrations that will feel different to the user.
The entire device can be stretched up to four times its normal length and it will withstand at least a million such stretches while continuing to work.
“The next step will be to develop a fully wearable prototype for applications in rehabilitation and virtual and augmented reality,” said Harshal Sonar, the lead scientist on the study. “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.”
Study in journal Soft Robotics: Closed-Loop Haptic Feedback Control Using a Self-Sensing Soft Pneumatic Actuator Skin