New VR Synthetic Skin Will Intensify Gaming, Long-Distance Dating, and Prosthetics

The wireless, touch-sensitive interface worn over skin sends vibrating signals through the skin layer.

New VR Synthetic Skin Will Intensify Gaming, Long-Distance Dating, and Prosthetics
Actuator on skin Northwestern University

Virtual Reality (VR) games and interfaces as we know them include wearing headgear and being strapped with wires across our bodies. It's still good fun, but imagine the freedom of movement that would come without the wires. 

A report published in Nature on Wednesday described a new wireless interface that is touch-sensitive and is worn as a layer, or patch, on our skin. 

Its communication method is sent through mechanical vibrations all across the skin layer.

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How did the team create the VR skin?

John Rogers from Northwestern University in Illinois and Xiao-ming Tao from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University came up with the VR skin and were the co-authors of the paper. 

The duo had to find the exact combination of voltages and currents to create the appropriate response in the patch. Rogers and Tao didn't want to create responses of pain or electrocution — as would happen if the electrodes used in current regular VR suits touched our skin. 

New VR Synthetic Skin Will Intensify Gaming, Long-Distance Dating, and Prosthetics
One of the actuators used in the interface. Source: Northwestern University

The team managed to produce a comfortable and flexible interface, which takes the form of vibrating actuators within a soft, and flexible material that lies flat on our skin. 

New VR Synthetic Skin Will Intensify Gaming, Long-Distance Dating, and Prosthetics
The copper layer that will become part of the patch. Source: Northwestern University

They used a number of materials, device structures, power-delivery strategies, and communication schemes and created the wireless, battery-free platform of electronic systems, along with a wearable, soft, interface. 

New VR Synthetic Skin Will Intensify Gaming, Long-Distance Dating, and Prosthetics
The device before being closed. Source: Northwestern University

What can this new wireless VR interface be used for?

Novel and VR video gaming would certainly benefit from this new interface as there would be a lot more freedom of movement involved. 

However, it's not only gaming that'll reap the benefits of such a VR interface. 

New VR Synthetic Skin Will Intensify Gaming, Long-Distance Dating, and Prosthetics
Open patch showing actuators. Source: Northwestern University

Social media exchanges and prosthetic control would change as well. 

Because the VR skin is able to be electronically programmed and has a comfortable sensory input to the body through a number of vibrating actuators embedded into the soft layer, it's also useful in a number of scenarios. 

For instance, transmitting touches to loved ones across the world via social media would become a possibility. Long-distance dating, or living far away from family would become a lot more pleasant and easier. 

Another application is recreating the feel of an object when a prosthetic hand holds it — an incredible feat. 

New VR Synthetic Skin Will Intensify Gaming, Long-Distance Dating, and Prosthetics
Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Garrett Anderson wears the patch and is able to feel the handshake. Source: Northwestern University

And in the world of gaming, video gamers would be able to feel the strikes and hits they receive while playing combat games. 

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