Flexible skin sensor can help you touch things in virtual reality (VR)
It could also help robots interact with the outside world.
Virtual reality does not correspond to the label “reality” without tactile sensations, but that may not be a problem much longer. Cornell scientists have developed a new form of stretchy skin sensor that uses glass fiber to provide a sense of touch. It is inspired by silica-based fiber sensors that search for subtle wavelength changes to measure elements such as temperature.
In a prototype glove, each finger has an expandable light guide that combines a clear polyurethane core and a LED-coupled core loaded with absorbent dyes. When you distort the light guide by bending your fingers or resisting pressure, the dyes serve as “spatial encoders” that light up and record exactly what is happening (and more importantly, where).
The technology is still pretty rudimentary at the moment. The team glove is a unique 3D printing model with Bluetooth, battery, and basic features.
However, the potential uses are clear. Future virtual reality gloves (not to mention augmented reality) can give you feedback as you touch and grip virtual objects. It may not mimic real-life perfectly, but at least you should know if you came in contact with something. It can also give robots a sense of touch that helps them respond to their environment and handle better delicate objects. At this point, the smell may be the only sense that infamous VR lacks, and that could come sooner than you think.
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