Designers from London’s Royal College of Art have created a skinsuit which allows the user to go from the physical to the virtual world by ‘feeling’ invisible objects. Holly Rubenstein reports.
What if our skin was our interface to virtual reality?
This is the question a group of graduate students at London’s Royal College of Art have explored in their “Skinterface” project. It’s a skinsuit which allows the user to go from the physical to the virtual world by ‘feeling’ invisible objects. “Virtual experiences so far are quite limited to sound and vision but they’re not fully immersive because you don’t actually get to feel things and in the real world skin is our interface to everything. It’s the way that we feel everything in the real world.”
The prototype sleeve creates this sensory experience through custom-made moving magnet actuators which are embedded in the garment. When exposed to different sounds they create a varying electromagnetic field which in turn produces varying sensations on the skin. For example, a recorded sound — such as knocking on wood — can be ‘played’ onto skin via the actuators. “So it’s actually the moving magnets that are touching the skin but with that you can then play different complex soundwaves, different recordings, which gives quite an interesting effect.”
The colourful patches on the sleeve are then tracked in 3D space by a colour-tracking camera. This allows control over every individual actuator based on its assigned colour code. And the team hope to evolve Skinterface into a much more immersive experience, with possible further applications too.
“I think our next ambition would be to try and get it so that you could actually interact two ways with things so you could, you know, touch something and then do something that would have an effect on whatever it was and then you could really interact with things in virtual reality…I think we see a lot of applications for this. Our first thought was obviously gaming, and entertainment, but there could eventually be you know medical applications and all sorts of other things so kind of seeing where the interest lies.”
Skinterface joins a handful of similar technologies feeling their way to a more tactile virtual reality experience.