This connected hydrogel skin allows you to feel objects in virtual reality

Estimated read time 3 min read

A team of researchers in Hong Kong has developed an alternative to thick and bulky gloves to be able to feel objects in virtual reality. WeTac is like a second skin that covers the palm and fingers and produces tactile sensations thanks to electrodes.

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Virtual reality and augmented reality are very immersive technologies. However, they are limited mainly to two senses: sight and hearing. In an attempt to simulate touch, there are prototypes of VR gloves that use different mechanisms, and even wiring systems, but so far all the solutions are quite cumbersome. Researchers from the Municipal University of Hong Kong propose a much more compact alternative, a kind of artificial skin. They published the details in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence.

Called WeTac, this second skin is composed of a hydrogel hydrogel that sticks to the hand. Its small thickness makes it possible not to interfere with the movementsmovements. It contains 32 electrodes, distributed at the palm and fingers, and connected to a controller located in a small patch of 5 cm x 5 cm. This is worn on the forearm and contains a battery as well as a Bluetooth transmitter.

This “skin” makes it possible to feel the objects in virtual or augmented reality. © CityU Research & Technology

Sensations of different intensities

The electrodes provide a tactile stimulationstimulation when the wearer interacts with an object in virtual reality. They are capable of producing sensations of different intensities, which makes it possible to have the sensation of touching or grasping objects, or even to feel a small virtual mouse walking on one’s hand. WeTac can even create unpleasant, but not painful sensations, for example, by touching a virtual cactus. The system is also designed to be calibrated to the sensitivity of each wearer.

The researchers believe that WeTac may also have applicationsapplications outside the metaverse. Such a system would make it possible in particular to control a robot equipped with tactile sensorsensors, or even help to regain sensations after the installation of a prosthesis.

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