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Adding to the richness of virtual reality, EPFL researchers have created soft actuators that can simulate the feeling of touching a virtual object with your fingers.
In the virtual world, the objects you pick up do not exist: you can see that cup or pen, but it does not feel like you’re touching them. That presented a challenge to EPFL professor Herbert Shea. Drawing on his extensive experience with silicone-based muscles and motors, Shea wanted to find a way to make virtual objects feel real.
“With my team, we’ve created very small, thin and fast actuators,” explains Shea, who heads up the School of Engineering’s Soft Transducers Laboratory at EPFL Neuchâtel. “They are millimeter-sized capsules that use electrostatic energy to inflate and deflate.” The capsules have an outer insulating membrane made of silicone enclosing an inner pocket filled with oil. Each bubble is surrounded by four electrodes, that can close like a zipper. When a voltage is applied, the electrodes are pulled together, causing the center of the capsule to swell like a blister.
Recreating the sense of touch
It is an ingenious system because the capsules, known as HAXELs, can move not only up and down, …
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