A newly developed electronic skin lets the wearer manipulate virtual objects without touching them — like typing on a keypad, or adjusting a dimmer just by moving your wrist.
Standard VR devices need to be able to see an object to track motion. This usually involves cameras, which is fine for detecting large movements, but the resolution is usually too low to work with finer detail like the movement of fingers. For a study published today in the journal Science Advances, scientists built an e-skin that’s essentially a thin film with sensors inside that interact with a magnet. It doesn’t need to be in the line of sight (because it uses magnets) and doesn’t use much energy. It’s soft and bendable, and could one day be used in medical devices like prosthetics or in soft robots.
By wearing the e-skin on your hand, the sensor works by interacting with a nearby magnet. Depending on the angle of your hand, it can produce various levels of voltage. The researchers programmed software that controls what happens at each angle of the sensor, explains study author Gilbert Cañón Bermúdez, a researcher at Helmholtz-Zentrum-Dresden-Rossendorf Institute for Ion Beam Physics and Materials Research in Germany. That way, users wearing the skin can turn a virtual light on or off, and type symbols on a keyboard.
The technology isn’t meant to replace current VR, says Cañón Bermúdez, but to complement it by adding more detail. Right now, the authors are working with magnetic fields about the size of a fridge magnet, so the next step is to work on smaller fields for more detailed manipulations.
Touchless manipulation of objects based on the interaction with magnetic fields.
(A) Concept of touchless manipulation of an object on a (wearable or virtual) screen by moving a hand. (B and C) An on-skin magnetic field sensor is applied to a palm of the hand. Its angular position with respect to the direction of the external magnetic field is monitored and is used to reconstruct the spatial position of the hand. This information can be used to display the position of the hand in a virtual reality scene or/and to enable interaction with objects in virtual or augmented reality.
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