Artificial muscles gives haptic feedback gloves a finer sense of touch
Connected gloves that transmit haptic feedback to the user, be it from objects in distant locations or virtual reality environments, could certainly open up some interesting possibilities. Scientists in Australia working in this field have demonstrated a new device they say offers a more realistic experience than previous solutions, by making use of soft artificial muscles that more closely resemble our sense of touch.
The device was developed by researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and is similar to others we have looked at in the space, in that the haptic sensations felt by one user are relayed to another, no matter the distance between them. In a general sense, these make uses of sensors that record the forces felt by the human hand, and then wirelessly recreate them for remote users.
“The human hand has a high density of tactile receptors and is both an interesting and challenging area to encode information through haptic stimulation, because we use our hands to perceive most objects every day,” says senior author Dr Thanh Nho Do. “There are many situations where the sense of touch would be useful but is impossible: for example, in a telehealth consultation a doctor is unable to physically examine a patient. So, we aimed to solve this problem.”
The researchers set out to bring a new level of sensitivity to haptic gloves by incorporating artificial muscles they call soft skin stretch devices (SSDs). These are driven by a combination of micromotors, tiny syringes and hydraulic pressure, and work as three-dimensional sensors that both recognize and generate force when integrated into the fingertips of the haptic glove.
“If your friend picks up an object, it will physically press against your friend’s fingers and their glove with 3D force sensors will measure these interactions,” says Do. “If these 3D force signals are sent to your haptic glove, then the integrated three-way directional SSDs will generate these exact 3D forces at your fingertips, enabling you to experience the same sense of touch as your friend.”
According to the researchers, this approach offers a number of benefits over existing systems with its light weight and soft and pliable design. They plan to begin user testing and have already applied to patent the technology with hopes of it becoming commercially available in the next 18 months to three years, with all kinds of applications on the table.
“What’s also special about our new technology is that it’s scalable and can be integrated into textiles for use in various potential applications such as telehealth, medical devices, surgical robots and training, augmented and virtual reality, teleoperation and industrial settings,” says Do. “The device aims to solve a common problem in emerging systems – such as assistive devices, remote surgery, self-driving cars and the guidance of human movements – where visual or auditory feedback can be slow, unintuitive and increase the cognitive load.”
A paper describing the research was published in IEEE Access.
Source: University of New South Wales