New Wireless ‘Smart Skin’ Allows People To Feel Touch Of Online Partner

People may soon not only see and hear their family or partner during an internet video call. Researchers have developed a “smart skin” that would enable users to improve virtual experiences by “feeling” the touch, kiss or hug of the person on the other side of the screen. 

The device, described in the journal Nature, uses a programmable array of miniature vibrating disks that rapidly respond to changes. Researchers said the artificial skin is made with a soft, flexible material that can contour to the body, providing a natural feeling.

"Physical touch, human touch, is probably the deepest, most significant emotional connection that you can establish with a loved one or friends," John Rogers, a nanoengineer and a professor of bioengineering at Northwestern University, said. 

The smart skin is also wireless and battery-free, making it portable and easy to use. Researchers said it could be used for social media, entertainment, virtual reality, video games, sensory feedback for amputees, therapies and even during online business meetings, where people could shake hands virtually, CNN reported

"What's particularly exciting about their work is how they incorporate wireless power delivery," Luke Osborn, a postdoctoral researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who was not involved in the study, said. "I'm really excited to see how this technology progresses in the coming years."

The Northwestern researchers are also using a technology created by Osborn’s team. The tool, called an "e-dermis," was first developed to mimic nerve endings and allow amputees to feel pain with their prosthetic hands.

In the new smart skin, e-dermis is being guide by people in feeling and controlling the force they use when they grasp an object. The tool is also expected to allow users to feel temperatures. 

"You can also deploy multiple devices at different areas of interest across the body and you can control all of them wirelessly and simultaneously," Rogers added. 

The researchers are currently working with stroke victims to test the smart skin. The team said the technology would help patients eat by triggering and timing swallows with respiration to avoid choking.

Woman on video call Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a new “smart skin” that allows users to “feel” the touch of the person on the other side of the screen during an internet video call. Pixabay