Scientists Fake Touch; Fantasies Intensify in Second Life

A team of researchers at the University of Illinois is developing devices that allow users to experience the sensation of touch, without actually touching anything.

The team calls their devices “electrotactile stimulators.” They work by turning electrical signals into sensation. A flexible circuit is installed onto a pliable, finger-shaped tube which, when it comes into contact with the wearer’s skin, tricks the brain into into thinking they’re touching something.

Though tactile feedback devices are nothing new, this product takes it in a different direction. Older devices were either non-portable or bulky and obtrusive. This one is not only unobtrusive to the wearer, it’s also discreet.

The technology has a number of possible applications. Precise tactile feedback could be used in surgical gloves or a multitude of other medical devices, for example. On a less altruistic note,  games and other electronic media could make use of the tech. The ability to fake the sense of touch would  add an extra dimension, so to speak, and raise the bar significantly.

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