John Rogers and colleagues at Northwestern University, Illinois, have developed an interesting new electronic skin technology which allows the virtualisation of touch, among several other possibilities. The wireless and battery free eSkin is said to be soft, lightweight and comfortable to wear.
In the demonstration video, embedded below (screenshot above), we see a mother video chatting with her toddler who is wearing an eSkin patch on his back. During the video chat the mother touches the computer screen and these touches are felt by the toddler - she is stroking her hand on his back. Other possible applications of this eSkin tech are in helping amputees interact with their surroundings and prosthetics, and for even deeper immersion in VR video gaming.
Rogers and his team developed this revolutionary eSkin at the Centre for Bio-Integrated Technologies at Northwestern University. Rather than being bulky or, heavy, laced with wires and packed with batteries the new eSkin is thin, flexible and garment like. The thin layered design includes; copper coils, switches, antenna, and actuators - with an outer layer of breathable stretchable fabric and human-skin touching layer of soft silicon. It is explained by Rogers that "the key advances were in miniaturizing and creating power-efficient mechanical actuators that can be tiled into arrays, controlled in real-time through a wireless interface, and also be powered wirelessly". For the wireless power to work the eSkin must be within 30 to 50cm of a power delivering antenna.
Currently the eSkin performs well, even when bent, folded or twisted and plans are already coming together to improve it further - using miniaturised actuators without affecting performance, for example. Furthermore, Rogers is thinking about a full-body suit made from this eSkin, which would require about 1,800 embedded actuators, in his estimation.
Further advances could mean that different sensations could be created by the eSkin. Beyond the current feeling of touch changes could be made to eSkin components to create higher pressure 'pokes' as well as compression, heating and cooling.