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Phone case with artificial skin enables new input gestures, may fuel nightmares

Phone cases covered with artificial skin may augment mobile devices with new input gestures, in exchange for the possibility of fueling nightmares due to how darn creepy they look.

Marc Teyssier from Telecom ParisTech named the technology Skin-On Interfaces. The project, which was in collaboration with researchers from HCI Sorbonne Université and CNRS, started with Teyssier’s desire to pinch his phone, he revealed to New Scientist.

In Teyssier’s dedicated page for the project, he said that he wanted to replace the cold interface of devices such as smartphones with a realistic version of human skin, which is part of how people interact with others. The team created two prototypes utilizing the technology, namely a simpler version and a very realistic version.

The artificial skin is programmed to detect different gestures such as tickling, poking, and pinching, and link them to various emotions. For example, a light tap indicates that the user wants the phone’s attention, and a tight grip means that the user is angry. This is made possible by a layer of stretchable copper wire wedged in between an epidermis and hypodermis of silicon that was molded to resemble the human skin. The pressure that the user applies to the skin changes the system’s electric charge.

Teyssier encountered challenges in developing the Skin-On Interfaces’ sensor, he told New Scientist, particularly on the requirement to develop something stretchable that is also capable of detecting touches.

Teyssier told Gizmodo that he started the project without any specific applications in mind, but rather “to propose a possible future with anthropomorphic devices.” Teyssier is also the researcher behind the MobiLimb, a robotic finger that plugs into smartphones to allow them to crawl across a surface, which gives us a sense of the kind of future that he is talking about.

In addition to a phone case, the team created a computer touchpad and smartwatch wristband to demonstrate the abilities of the Skin-On Interfaces. The next step, according to the published paper on the project, is to make the artificial skin even more realistic with hair, temperature features, and even texture changes with sweat and goosebumps, which may make touching them more comforting or terrifying, depending on where you sit with this whole idea.

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