Artificial Skin Takes Touch Technology to the Next Level

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Artificial Skin Takes Touch Technology to the Next Level

For sure, you own a smartphone, and you’re using it while reading this piece right now. But can you imagine tickling the gadget you’re holding at this moment to send a laughing emoji? Sounds like a joke, right?

Well, you should know by now that researchers at the University of Bristol and Paris have developed an artificial skin that can add “richness” to the interactive gadgets, such as phones and computers, that we use daily. I read from robots.net that this new interface is called Skin-On, which seems like a real-life human skin in its appearance and sensory function.

We are aware of how touch technology augments the capabilities of the gadgets we are using every day. Take, for instance, the touchscreens of our smartphones. We rarely press a button now when we have our gadgets at hand. We just slide up and down, right and left on our devices’ screens.

But this artificial skin-like membrane/interface is a big leap for touch technology. So, if you’re curious how it was done and what are its beneficial applications, let’s dig deeper into this article. Read on below.

A First of Its Kind

There is a good number of studies regarding artificial skin, but almost all of them focus on cosmetic, safety, and prosthetic purposes. This research is the first time that artificial skin is utilized for augmenting interactive devices.

The researchers explored the intersection between humans and machines. But instead of augmenting humans with machine parts, this time, they attempted to enhance our devices with a skin-like interface.

After all, the human skin is an interface in itself, so the researchers thought that it would be much better if we utilize artificial skin as a new input to add richness to the gadgets that we use every day.

The researchers developed a smartwatch, a computer touchpad, and a smartphone case to display the capabilities of the Skin-On interface in conveying expressive messages through touch gestures. Users can use the interface to express rich tactile emotions to other people.

How They Made It?

The geniuses at the University of Bristol, Sorbonne University, and Telecomm ParisTech used a bio-driven approach to create a hypodermis layer, an electrode layer of conductive threads, and a top textured layer.

A dragonskin silicone with beige pigments was poured onto a mold that looks like human skin to create the top textured layer. Beneath the top layer, a mesh of flexible copper wire was inserted on top of another silicone layer. The electrical charge of this system changes as there’s pressure on the skin.

Then, the researchers trimmed an excess silicone before folding it around the side of the hypodermis layer and putting silicone glue on it to enhance the appearance of the interface. They also added makeup to shade the interface with skin-like tonal variations and make it look like real human skin.

After that, the skin-like interface was programmed to associate touch gestures with certain emojis. For instance, caressing the interface means that the user needs comfort, tapping means needing attention, and tickling implies that the user is laughing. Basically, this artificial skin enables gadgets to feel the gestures of the end-users.

The finishing touches incorporate skin temperature features and embedded hair to make the artificial skin close to reality.

What Does Skin-On Interface Mean to Gadget Users?

This skin-like interface can give users natural physical affordances. The quality and features of the material can encourage users to see what’s all about this interface and discover new controls for communication.

This stuff can also help enhance the function of small mobile gadgets like smartwatches. For example, the skin-like wristband can be useful to perform one-dimensional interactions and other gestures, such as continuous rotations or 2D scrolling, to convey gestural messages to other people, navigate various apps, or press the next song on a music playlist.

Another advantage of using the Skin-On interface is enhanced communication with embodied conversational agents (ECAs). ECAs are human-like virtual agents designed to communicate with gadget users. They convey their emotional states by way of verbal and non-verbal expressions. Skin-On interface can serve as a mediated embodiment of this virtual figure.

By performing touch gestures on the skin (meaning, on the ECA), users can interact with the virtual character like in normal human interaction. For example, you can pinch the interface to express annoyance or stroke it to communicate sympathy.

Takeaway

Indeed, this artificial skin interface is a significant study that explores human-like parts for augmenting the capabilities of machines. Also, this study is a breakthrough in touch technology, which is an essential feature in many of our modern devices.

The way we use our gadgets such as smartphones and smartwatches will never be the same thanks to this material that provides us with natural physical affordances when communicating interaction and performing mobile tactile expressions through our gadgets.

Andrew Williams

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