New wearable device could provide better tactile perception in VR apps

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Tencent’s Robotics X Lab and City University of Hong Kong (CityU) have created a portable touch rendering system which reproduces tactile sensations with high spatial resolution and fast response rate. The team implemented this device into a braille display and provided tactile sensations in the metaverse for VR shopping and gaming. Plus, it has potential applications for astronauts, deep-sea divers, and those who need to wear thick gloves.

Their thin and flexible electro-tactile actuator can be placed in a finger cot. It also displays various sensations including vibration, pressure, and texture roughness. Rather than DC pulses, the wearable device operates at 30 V thanks to the high-frequency alternative simulation strategy developed by the researchers. As a result, the tactile rendering is safe and comfortable to wear.

They proposed a super-resolution strategy that renders “tactile sensation at locations between physical electrodes, instead of just at electrode locations.” This allows them to achieve higher spatial resolution of their simulators from 25 to 105 points, providing the wearer with a more realistic tactile perception.

“Our new system can elicit tactile stimuli with both high spatial resolution (76 points/cm2), similar to the density of related receptors in human skin, and a fast response rate (4 kHz),” said Mr. Lin Weikang, a PhD student at CityU, who developed and tested the device.

The team tested the wearable device to demonstrate potential applications. First, they made a proposal for a braille strategy for people with visual impairments. It would work by breaking down the alphabet and numeric digits into individual strokes, which are presented in the same written order. Wearing the system on the fingertip allows the user to recognize the alphabet via the sensor by feeling the direction and sequence of the strokes.

“It would be particularly useful for people who lose their sight later in life, allowing them to continue reading and writing using the same alphabetic system they are used to, without needing to learn the whole braille dot system. “, said Dr. Yang. Noted.

The system can also be used for VR/AR apps and games, providing a sense of touch in the metaverse. Highly flexible and scalable electrodes would then cover larger areas like the palm. The team’s demonstration shows the wearer virtually feeling the texture of clothing in a virtual clothing store. Users may also feel a little itch on their fingertips when a VR cat licks that area. Petting the cat allows the wearer to feel a variation in roughness as the strokes change in speed and direction.

Additionally, he can convey fine tactical details through thick gloves. The team placed the system’s thin, lightweight electrodes into flexible touch sensors on a safety glove. The sensor collects the pressure distribution outside the glove and transmits this data to the wearer via tactile stimulation. Their experience showed that the user accurately and quickly located a steel puck with a radius of 1 mm and a thickness of 0.44 mm based on tactile feedback from the glove. This shows that astronauts, firefighters, deep-sea divers, etc., wearing thick protective suits or gloves could benefit from the system’s high-fidelity tactile perception.

“We expect our technology to benefit a wide range of applications, such as information transmission, surgical training, teleoperation and multimedia entertainment,” added Dr. Yang Zhengbao, associate professor in the Department of mechanical engineering from CityU, who co-led the study.

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