Epidermal VR: The touchy feely Virtual Reality tech

Virtual Reality (VR) technology immerses a user inside a computer-generated experience, allowing them to see, hear and interact with amazing 3D worlds. But the extent to which people have been able to physically feel those worlds has, until now, been pretty limited.

But that looks set to change with the development of the ‘epidermal VR’ system.

Developed by scientists at Northwestern University in Illinois and the City University of Hong Kong, the revolutionary VR technology consists of a thin, soft, flexible material that’s embedded with 32 tiny vibrating actuators and sticks to a person’s skin.

The wirelessly-powered, wirelessly-controlled actuators can be adjusted independently to generate a sense of touch on corresponding parts of a person’s body. And because it features no bulky batteries or hanging wires, the epidermal VR system can be worn seamlessly.

It’s even possible for one person to control another’s epidermal patch remotely via a smartphone interface. For example, the sender could draw an ‘X’ on the screen and the patch wearer would feel the letter being drawn on their skin.

With further development, the scientists behind the patch say it could even enable people to touch each other while on video calls using their smartphones.

The epidermal VR system has even been used to allow a US Army veteran amputee to gauge the grip strength of his prosthetic hand. As his prosthetic hand squeezes, the tiny actuators in the patch vibrate to alert him to how hard he is squeezing. This could be amazingly practical going forward as it would allow amputees to avoid accidentally breaking delicate objects like eggs.

What do you think? Is this epidermal VR tech going to be revolutionary? What other applications could it possibly have? Tweet us @PolytecNews



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