Corduroy is coming to the metaverse with touchy-feely robotic sensors

Just what virtual reality needs – an update that brings a bit of texture torture

Scientists have developed a robotic sensing system they say can distinguish between multiple types of fabric, including corduroy, in work they hope may bring a detailed sense of touch to virtual reality.

With immediate application in tactile sensation identification for robots and human limb prosthetics, the study relies on a flexible slip sensor that mimics the features of a human fingerprint to enable the system to recognize small features on surface textures when touching or sliding the sensor across the surface.

The research team led by Chuan Fei Guo of the Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, China, argue that earlier efforts to build “touching” sensors at a human sense level had fallen short because they relied on physical stimuli, such as pressure, ignoring the movement across the surface.

The team developed a flexible slip sensor that mimics the qualities of a human fingerprint. Crucially, it can gather data by sliding across the surface of the material under investigation. It was able to identify a range of 20 fabrics — including khaki trench coat fabric, twill cloth, and corduroy — at a 100 percent accuracy at a steady speed and a 98.9 percent accuracy at random sliding rates.

“Such a system is expected to promote the sensing technologies of robotics and prosthetics, and is potentially useful for the sensory recovery of patients wearing artificial prostheses, haptics-based virtual reality, and consumer electronics,” the researchers’ paper says.

The sensor was built from tunable electric double layers that have a nanoscale electric charge separation, creating sensitivity up to 51,900 Pascals pressure and spatial resolution down to 15 micrometers spacing and 6 micrometers in height.

“Our artificial sensory system mimics the function of the human sensory system [and] can respond to both static pressure and high-frequency vibrations during the physical interaction with textures or other objects,” according to the paper published in Nature Communications this week.

“The signal with spatiotemporal information is further collected and transmitted using a circuit board, and analyzed using machine learning with the recognition result being output in a visual user interface,” the paper adds.

“Overall, our artificial sensory system has a higher accuracy in the differentiation of fine textures. Such an artificial sensory system is not only potentially useful in robotics, but also expected to be applied in healthcare and consumer electronics by helping humans achieve enhanced haptic functions, and by offering new technologies for metaverse,” the researchers claim. ®

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