Watch this wearable electronic skin control virtual objects

Virtual reality can plunge you into the depths of the ocean or let you fly through space, but when it comes to interacting with these virtual worlds, the technology can be frustratingly limited. A wearable, electronic skin could change that. Writing today in Science Advances, researchers describe a flexible “e-skin” that can track small movements, allowing users to control virtual objects using their hands and fingers. The artificial skin is only 3.5 micrometers thick—about the same width as a single thread of spider silk—and consists of a tiny magnetic field sensor sandwiched between two layers of film. When the skin is near a magnet, the sensor produces a voltage, which varies depending on its angle relative to the magnetic field. Software monitors the output voltage and reconstruct the exact position of the sensor, tracking the body part the skin is attached to and replicating its movement in a virtual environment. In a video demonstration, a volunteer wearing the e-skin on their palm operates a simulated dimmer switch by twisting their hand above a magnet; in another, they use the skin like a phone’s dialing pad, pressing virtual buttons with a magnet attached to the end of their finger. The researchers say that their skin-tight technology could allow gamers to reach out and interact with virtual worlds using only their hands. The e-skin could also enable scientists to engineer more lifelike robots that can sense their own movements without needing bulky hardware.