Artificial human-like skin allows you to tickle or pinch your smartphone
The Skin-On interface responds to human touch
Pinching your smartphone could become a future way to express annoyance in a message (Photo: marcteyssier.com)
Researchers have developed a form of synthetic 'skin' capable of detecting tickling, twisting and pinching, breaking down the barriers between man and machine.
The silicone membrane, which resembles the fleshy layers of human skin, was adapted to fit around a smartphone, computer touch pad and smartwatch to explore how people conveyed the natural expressive gestures they would use while interacting with a human to an electronic device.
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Teams from the University of Bristol, the Telecomm ParisTech research centre and Sorbonne University layered an 'epidermis' of silicone over an electrode layer of conductive threads, which in turn was placed on top of a 'hypodermis' silicone layer measuring 10mm thick.
Once the electrodes were soldered to the hardware sensing platform, the interface was able to feel the user's grasp and the pressure applied - whether it was a gentle tickle or caress, or more vicious twist or pinch.
The team created a fleshy smartphone case (Photo: marcteyssier.com)
Allowing devices to 'feel'
Giving a device the means to detect touch and its implied emotions (a tickle representing happiness, or a pinch: anger) both augments humans' experiences while using electronic devices and paves the way for future 'anthropomorphic devices".
"One of the main use of smartphones is mediated communication, using text, voice, video, or a combination. We implemented a messaging application where users can express rich tactile emotions on the artiﬁcial skin," said Marc Teyssier, lead author of the study.
The computer pad looks unnervingly like real skin (Photo: marcteyssier.com)
"The intensity of the touch controls the size of the emojis. A strong grip conveys anger while tickling the skin displays a laughing emoji and tapping creates a surprised emoji."
Mr Teyssier was inspired to search for the "perfect human interface that is the skin for existing devices", allowing humans to interact with and input information more naturally than tapping away at a "cold" smartphone.
"This is the first time we have the opportunity to add skin to our interactive devices. The idea is perhaps a bit surprising, but skin is an interface we are highly familiar with so why not use it and its richness with the devices we use every day?" said Dr Anne Roudaut, associate professor in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Bristol, who supervised the research.
"We have seen many works trying to augment human with parts of machines, here we look at the other way around and try to make the devices we use every day more like us, i.e. human-like."
The skin could allow future robots to feel more accutely (Photo: marcteyssier.com)
The research is being presented at the 32nd ACM User Interface Software and Technology Symposium in the US.
Researchers from the Technical University of Munich recently developed an artificial skin made from hexagonal cells around one inch in diameter embedded with microprocessors and sensors to detect touch, proximity to objects, acceleration and temperature.
Being able to sense and perceive its surroundings in greater detail means the robot can hug a human safely without exerting too much pressure - a common problem among robots which lack understanding of an appropriate amount of force, and significant safety consideration for future robots designed for use in hospitals or care homes.
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