Researchers have just created an electronic skin that is thin, flexible, and enables its user to manipulate virtual objects without touching them via keyboards and other peripherals. Could this be the next big thing in virtual and augmented reality?

Electronic Skin

A team of researchers developed electronic skin (e-skin) that gives its users the capability of manipulating virtual objects without the bulky gloves that are commonly used in virtual and augmented reality systems. Unlike the currently available systems that work through optical detection with the use of camera arrays and compasses, e-skin works with the help of permanent magnets and external magnetic field sensors.

The thin, skin-like device has magnets that interact with the magnetic field sensors that detect and track the movements of the user. For instance, if the e-skin is placed on a user's hand, the device detects the angle of the hand in relation to the magnetic field, so it can then be easily digitized and displayed in virtual or augmented reality. What's more, because the team used magnetic and not optic-based mechanisms for the e-skin, it does not require a direct line of sight between a virtual object and the sensors.

Touchless Manipulation

By using magnetic field sensors, the user is able to interact with virtual objects, as shown by the team's demonstration wherein a virtual knob is turned simply by turning the wrist above the magnetic field.

In another demo, the sensor is placed on the user's wristband on one hand while the e-skin is placed at the tip of the finger on the other hand. By simply positioning the fingertip with the e-skin above wristband, the user is able to manipulate a virtual keyboard.

Practical Uses

The methodology and concept of using magnetic sensors in the field of virtual reality isn't very new, as others have also come up with their own means of developing the technology in the form of gloves or fingertip sensors. However, what sets the e-skin apart is the mere fact that it is so thin and flexible, giving the device a lot of wiggle room for further developments.

"The difference is that our device does not restrain motion due to its unique mechanical properties of thinness and extreme flexibility," said Denys Makarov, coauthor of the study.

Apart from the more obvious choice of developing the technology for less bulky virtual and augmented reality systems, the technology may also be used in the fields of regenerative medicine, sports, robotics, gaming, and navigation.

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.

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