According to foreign media reports, although virtual reality technology can enable users to see and hear computer-generated environments, people still feel that the degree of these worlds is very limited. However, due to the so-called “skin VR” system, this situation may be about to change.

The experimental technology, developed by scientists from Northwestern University and City University of Hong Kong, combines a thin, soft, flexible and slightly sticky elastic patch that can temporarily adhere to the user’s skin.

The researchers embedded a set of wirelessly powered and wirelessly controlled disk-shaped electronic actuators in the patch. Currently, a 15 x 15 cm (5.9 inch) prototype contains 32 such devices. Researchers hope that as the size of the actuator becomes smaller, it is possible to pack more equipment into a given area.

Their idea is that when the epidermal VR patch is activated (such as VR game), some actuators will vibrate on the wearer’s skin, so as to stimulate the person’s touch in a specific area. Each actuator is designed to produce maximum resonance at a speed of 200 cycles per second, which is the frequency at which human skin shows maximum sensitivity.

Using the touch screen interface on a smartphone or tablet, one person can also remotely control another person’s patch in real time. For example, if the sender tracks x with his finger on his screen, the recipient will feel that x is tracked to the skin under the patch. Once further developed, it is hoped that this feature can allow video chat participants to make virtual touch through their devices. In addition, the system has been used to allow lower arm amputees to measure the grip strength of their bionic hand.

The researchers first installed a pressure sensor on the fingertip of Garrett Anderson’s prosthetic limb, and then placed an epidermal VR patch on the stump of his residual arm. When he then grabs the object with his hand, the sensor activates the actuator in the patch accordingly – the greater the pressure exerted by the finger, the greater the actuator vibration. This made him feel the firmness of his hand in his arm.

John A. Rogers, Professor of Northwest Airlines, said: “we use our knowledge in scalable electronics and wireless power transmission to integrate advanced architectures and form a large number of components, including micro actuators, which are designed as wearable devices related to skin.” The study was conducted with Professor Huang Yonggang. “We think this is a good starting point that can be naturally extended to whole-body systems and hundreds of discrete programmable actuators.”

Responsible editor: CT

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