Smartphones could be wrapped in artificial skin to give them a more natural feel, according to researchers. a faux-skin prototype called ‘skin-on’ has been developed by scientists to look and feel like human flesh, responding to different forms of human contact such as tickling, caressing and pinching.
‘Skin-on‘ interfaces are sensitive skin-like cases that can be attached to mobile phones, wearable devices and laptop touchpads, to increase their capabilities. The technology was developed by researchers at the University of Bristol in partnership with Telecomm Paristech and Sorbonne University in Paris.
‘When we interact with others, we use skin as interfaces. however the objects of mediated communication – such as the smartphone – still has a cold interface that doesn’t allow natural interaction and input,’ explains Marc Teyssien, a PhD student at Telecomm Paristech and lead study author. ‘In this project, I wanted to make available the perfect human interface that is the skin for existing devices.’
The artificial skin is made of three layers, including a top textured layer built by pouring dragonskin silicone with beige pigments on a skin-like texture mold. Beneath that is a lattice of stretchable copper wire sandwiched on top of another layer of silicone. Pressure on the skin changes the electric charge of the system.
‘To improve the visual appearance of the interface, the excess of silicone can be trimmed before being folded around the side of the hypodermis layer and glued with silicone glue,’ adds tTeyssien. ‘paint or makeup can be added to shade the artificial skin with flesh like tonal variation, thus increasing anthropomorphism.’
The artificial skin is programmed to associate different gestures with certain emotions. Putting pressure on the skin is associated with anger and tapping is a way of expressing that you need attention. Sustained contact and stroking register as comfort.
The next stage in the research will involve making the skin more realistic using embedded hair and temperature features. The work is currently being presented at the ACM symposium on user interface software and technology in new orleans, US.