Researchers in Sydney have developed a new glove-like, haptic device designed to recreate the sense 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 haptic technology is said to mimic the experience of touch. It was developed by a team led by University of New South Wales medical robotics lab director Dr. Thanh Nho Do.
“When we do things with our hands, such as holding a mobile phone or typing on a keyboard, all of these actions are impossible without haptics,” Do said in a news release. “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.
“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.”
Researchers published a study for the new device in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Access journal and have since applied to patent the technology.
The technology runs on a novel method that recreates haptic sensations through soft, miniature artificial “muscles” designed to generate sufficient normal and shear forces to the user’s fingertips through a soft tactor to reproduce the sense of touch.
“Our three-way directional skin stretch device (SSD), built into the fingertips of the wearable haptic glove we also created, is like wearing a second skin — it’s soft, stretchable and mimics the sense of touch — and will enable new forms of haptic communication to enhance everyday activities,” Do said. “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.”
According to Do and the researchers, users of the technology could benefit from realistic haptic experiences in settings such as rehabilitation, education, training and recreation, offering users a way to feel objects in a virtual world or at a distance.
The team estimates that the technology could become available in the range of 18 to 24 months if plans to commercialize the device come to fruition.
“The next step is to conduct user evaluations to validate how effective our device is, because the main scope of our current research has been on the design, fabrication and characterization of the new technology,” Do said. “In addition, we 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, prosthesis and virtual and augmented reality.”