Haptic technology mimics the experience of touch by stimulating localized areas of the skin in ways that are similar to what is felt in the real world through force, vibration, or motion. The human hand has a large number of tactile receptors that are used to perceive most objects. There are many situations in which the sense of touch would be useful such as in a telehealth consultation where a doctor is unable to physically examine a patient.
Researchers developed a three-way directional skin stretch device (SSD) built into the fingertips of a wearable haptic glove that mimics the sense of touch. The scalable technology can be integrated into textiles for use in various applications such as telehealth, medical devices, surgical robots, augmented and virtual reality, teleoperation, and industrial settings.
Existing haptic technology has had great difficulty recreating the sense of touch with objects in virtual environments or located remotely. Visual or auditory cues are easy to replicate but haptic cues are more challenging to reproduce. It is almost impossible to enable a user to feel something happening in a computer or smartphone using a haptic interface such as commercially available smart glasses. Haptic feedback with vibration becomes less sensitive when used continuously or when users are in motion, leading to desensitization and impaired device functionality.
The new technology overcomes issues with existing haptic devices by introducing a novel method to recreate an effective haptic sensation via soft, miniature, artificial “muscles.” The haptic glove enables people to feel virtual or remote objects in a more realistic and immersive way. The artificial muscles generate sufficient normal and shear forces to the user’s fingertips via a soft tactor, enabling them to effectively reproduce the sense of touch.
The ability to effectively reproduce the sense of touch via the new wearable haptic device would have a wide range of benefits; for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic when people rely on video calls to stay connected with loved ones. Unlike existing haptic devices, the new technology is soft, lightweight, and thin and therefore, users can integrate it into what they’re wearing to provide realistic haptic experiences in settings including rehabilitation, education, training, and recreation.
The technology could enable a user to feel objects inside a virtual world or at a distance; for example, a scientist could feel a virtual rock from another planet without leaving their lab or a surgeon could feel a patient’s organ tissues with surgical tools without directly touching them.
The researchers plan to implement the device in various haptic applications such as haptic motion guidance, navigational assistance for older people and those with low vision, tactile textual language, and 3D force feedback display for use in surgical robots, prostheses, and virtual and augmented reality.