‘Smart skin’ makes virtual touch a reality

New era: Scientists say virtual touch will allow us to understand each other better. © Go Touch VR

Should touch become digital? A new thin, wireless skin could allow us to reach through a computer and touch what is on the other side. Is it wonderful or disturbing?

What’s happening

Perhaps your grandparents live far away from you. With a tablet or smartphone, you can hear their voices and see them smile.

Now, scientists are developing a “smart skin”, which would let you reach out and hug your relatives even when they are hundreds of miles away.

Find out more

“Human touch is probably the deepest, most significant emotional connection that you can establish with a loved one or friends,” says Josh Rogers, an American professor who studies haptics.

In a paper published on Wednesday, in the journal Nature, Rogers and his colleagues revealed that they have built a battery-free, wireless smart skin that can cling to the body and deliver sensations. It is powered by tiny vibrating disks inside a thin, flexible material.

Scientists believe that the invention could forever change how we use medicine, video gaming, social media and TV entertainment. For example, it could allow amputees to feel through artificial limbs.

In 2019, the average child spent almost five hours a day looking at a screen. Should touch become digital too?

Some say…

Yes. The technology has almost unlimited potential uses. Smart skin would let us fully immerse ourselves in virtual worlds and step into our favourite films. However, it is not just for fun. It could help people with certain disabilities to connect with others. We should celebrate this incredible step.

Others think…

No. There is something special about human touch that computers cannot copy. When you hug your parents, or place a comforting hand on your friend’s shoulder, you are sharing a special moment that is rooted in the real world. We should not corrupt human touch by disconnecting it from reality. It is another step towards isolation.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to have smart skin?

Activities

  1. Write a short story set in a future with advanced virtual reality.

Some People Say...

“Nothing eases suffering like human touch.”

Bobby Fischer (1943-2008), US chess grandmaster

What do you think?

Word Watch

Relatives
People in your family.
Haptics
The science of touch.
Journal
A type of magazine in which scientists publish their research.
Sensations
Physical feelings.
Amputees
People who have had a part of their body removed due to injury or illness.
Corrupt
Ruin.
Isolation
Being alone.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.