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SmartTouch: A New Skin Layer to Touch the Non-Touchable

SmartTouch is a new haptic augmented-reality system based on electrical stimulation to convert sensed information into skin sensation. It is composed of a thin electro-tactile display and sensors mounted on the skin, so the wearer can not only make physical contact with objects, but also touch surface information of any modality.

Innovation
This work is a combination of two technical innovations:
  • Electro-Tactile Display
    To present realistic skin sensation for virtual reality, SmartTouch selectively stimulates each kind of receptor in the skin and reconstructs complex tactile sensations by combining these stimuli (tactile primary colors, analogous to the three primary colors for vision). This is acheived with electrical stimulation through the skin (electro-tactile display). Electrical current from surface electrodes generates an electric field inside the skin, which induces nerve activity. The basic idea is to utilize the different placement of sensory nerves and control the electric field by changing current-source distribution at the skin surface.

  • Augmented Haptics
    The system is essentially composed of a tactile display and a sensor. When it contacts an object, information acquired by the sensor is translated into tactile sensation such as vibration or force by a tactile display. In this way, users can not only make physical contact with the object, but also "touch" surface information of any modality.
Vision
Until now, there have been only two types of applications for tactile display: Braille displays for the visually impaired and haptic devices that deliver tactile textures to virtual worlds. SmartTouch emphasizes that if you combine sensors and tactile displays, tactile display will emerge into the real world. The ultimate goal of SmartTouch is to make the system negligibly thin, so that it can be worn as an unconscious but essential daily interface, just like eyeglasses. Then it may change our lives, because it will totally change our daily tactile experience.

Goal
SmartTouch can serve as a new "functional layer of skin." Although this project mainly focuses on the visual-to-tactile translation, SmartTouch should not be limited to Braille use for the visually impaired. If the sensor is changed, other modalities of sensation can be translated to touch. For example, combining the tactile sensor matrix and the electro-tactile display enables tactile-to-tactile conversion. If the tactile sensor is more sensitive than unaided human sensing abilities, daily tactile experience could be enhanced.

Contact
Hiroyuki Kajimoto
The University of Tokyo

Contributors
Masahiko Inami
Naoki Kawakami
Susumu Tachi
The University of Tokyo




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