You have a lot of options when it comes to technology for interacting with your computer. You can use a keyboard, mouse, touchpad, touchscreen, and much more. But none of those actually feel natural; all of them are clearly artificial, and don’t feel like anything found in nature. Now, however, a team of researchers from the UK and France have developed an interface technology that resembles human skin to a disturbing degree.
This artificial skin doesn’t just look real, it also feels real. It seems more like a special effects prop than an electronic device, and that is no accident. As Dr. Anne Roudaut, an Associate Professor at the University of Bristor who supervised the research, says, “The idea is perhaps a bit surprising, but skin is an interface we are highly familiar with so why not use it and its richness with the devices we use every day?”
The idea is that you can touch and manipulate the skin in a variety of ways to control your computer, smartphone, smartwatch, or tablet. For example, you could have a smartphone case made of this skin, which would let you control the phone without touching its screen. That’s possible because the skin has an electrode layer with a matrix of conductive threads.
As you manipulate the skin, the distance between those threads is changed. That change is monitored by a custom MuCa Breakout board — testing was done with an Arduino Pro Micro and a Wemos D1 Mini with an ESP826 — and the collected data is sent to the connected computer or smartphone. OpenCV is then used to convert that data into a two-dimensional image representing where the skin is being touched. By analyzing differences between images, more complex gestures can be detected. We can’t imagine using this artificial skin in public without drawing a lot of attention, but the research is definitely interesting.