We interact in the real, physical world in many different ways like seeing (visual), hearing (audio), taste, smell (olfaction) and touch (tactile).
Our interaction with the virtual world is comparatively limited mostly to visual and audio and in some cases tactile like some video game controller.
A Wearable Tactile Display could add the touch dimension to the way we interact with the virtual world and our electronic devices. Imagine getting ‘read out’ from our electronic device without having to look at a screen very much like getting a gentle tap on the shoulder or arm from someone to direct our attention to a certain direction or affirmative confirmation.
Researchers at the Sungkyunkwan University in Korea and the University of Nevada (US) have developed a flexible tactile display that could be part of our clothing enabling us a more physical interaction with our electronic devices without relying on the visual element only.
Ig Mo Koo, Hyouk Ryeol Choi, and co-authors from Sungkyunkwan University and the University of Nevada created an electro active polymer that can stimulate the skin without using any additional electromechanical transmission. The polymer sheet which consists of eight layers of dielectric elastomer actuator films is about 210 micrometers thick.
In their study, the researchers fabricated an 11 x 14 mm sheet with Velcro on the edges, and rolled it up in the shape of a thimble to be worn on the finger.
The display conveys information to the wearer when the electrodes induce a voltage across the films. A voltage causes the films to compress down and expand outward. In doing so, the films put pressure on the wearer’s skin, inducing a “mild sensation.”
The wearable tactile display concept looks ‘simple’ but it will require further work before the presumed benefits of efficient power usage, cost-effectiveness, and easy fabrication will be realized.
Nevertheless, it shows how the tactile interaction between virtual and real world, between wo/men and machine could be realized. A wearable tactile display has a diverse application potential like rescue and first response gear, in medical and tele medical garments and gloves, in sport apparels and wearable gaming accessories.
Once the wearable tactile displays becomes available I would love to see it in my shirt giving me a gentle tap on my arm whenever a new email arrives on my Blackberry.