Soft Robotic Gloves with Skin Stretch Devices Remotely Reproduce the Sense of Touch

Soft robotic gloves, worn over the fingertips, use tactors to reproduce the feeling of touch — a key haptic missing from current systems.

Gareth Halfacree
20 days agoRobotics / Wearables

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have released details of a novel haptic glove, which they claim reproduces and can remotely receive the sense of touch: a Skin Stretch Device, or SSD.

"In the real world, people heavily rely on haptic or touch to manipulate objects. In emerging systems such as assistive devices, remote surgery, self-driving cars and the guidance of human movements, visual or auditory feedback can be slow, unintuitive and increase the cognitive load," the team explains in the study's abstract. "Skin stretch devices (SSDs) that apply tangential force to the skin via a tactor can encode a far richer haptic space, not being limited to force, motion, direction, stiffness, indentation and surface geometry."

"This paper introduces novel hand-worn hydraulic SSDs that can induce 3-axis tangential forces to the skin via a tactor. The developed SSDs are controlled by new soft microtubule muscles (SMMs) which are driven by hydraulic pressure via custom miniature syringes and DC micromotors."

"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," says senior author Dr. Thanh Nho Do. "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."

"It works like this: Imagine you are in Australia while your friend is in the United States. You wear a haptic glove with our integrated three-way directional SSDs in the fingertips and your friend also wears a glove with integrated 3D force sensors. 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. 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."

While prototypes have already been created, work is ongoing to validate the efficacy of the SSDs in a range of fields including teleoperation, telepresence, motion guidance, navigational assistance, and accessibility — but Do believes it could be commercialised within 18 to 36 months.

The team's work has been published in the journal IEEE Access under open-access terms. More information can be found on the UNSW website.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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