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Wireless, soft e-skin for interactive touch communication in the virtual world

A team of researchers from the City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has made an exciting breakthrough in the field of interactive touch communication. They recently developed a wireless, soft e-skin that not only has the ability to sense touch but also to transmit the sensation of touch. It also can form a touch network that allows the user to interact simultaneously with several other people. Such development opens up great opportunities for improving interactive touch communication.

According to Dr Yu Xinge, Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at CityU, with the rapid development of virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), visual and auditory experiences are no longer enough to create an immersive experience. Sensory communication can become a revolution in interaction in the entire metaverse.

While the modern market can offer many examples of interfaces that simulate tactile sensations in the virtual world, they generally only provide touch sensing or tactile feedback. However, the e-skin developed by CityU researchers can perform the functions of self-sensing and tactile reproduction on the same interface. This unique characteristic allows for bidirectional touch transmission to be achieved at the same time.

The e-skin contains 16 flexible actuators arranged in a 4 x 4 array, a microcontroller unit (MCU), a Bluetooth module, and other electronics on a flexible circuit board. The actuator generates a current when pressed, providing electrical signals for tactile sensation to a corresponding actuator located on another e-skin sample. The harder the user presses, the brighter and longer the sensation is created on the other electronic skin.

The electrical signal generated by the actuators is converted into a digital signal using an analog-to-digital converter. When a signal is received, a current is induced to reproduce tactile feedback on the receiver's e-skin through mechanical vibration.

Although each actuator can only perform one task at a time, the rest of the 15 actuators located on the electronic skin patch can complement each other and perform the function of perception or tactile reproduction, enabling bidirectional touch transmission to be achieved at the same time.

Dr. Yu notes that their e-skin can communicate with Bluetooth devices and transmit data through the internet with smartphones and computers to perform ultra-long-distance touch transmission. It can also form a touch Internet of Things (IoT) system, enabling one-to-one and one-to-multiple touch delivery. Friends and family in different places could use it to "feel" each other, overcoming the limitations of space and greatly reducing the sense of distance in human communication.