Nanoengineers have reported success in the creation of what are already being called “smart fingertips” – sensory interfaces that mimic human skin and can be worn over the fingertips, glove-style.
Created by a team from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the fingertips are made of thin silicone, in which circuits made of nano-sized strips of silicon and gold are embedded. These circuits transmit electrical signals to the wearer’s actual fingertips, allowing them to feel “a vibration or tingling feeling” which could be a precursor to more advanced sensations that could make a user’s brain think it feels temperature or pressure!
This news is groundbreaking in a very particular way, reports Science Now. Technology already exists to create a virtual sense of touch – used, for example in specialized Braille readers that allow people who are visually-impaired to browse the internet. But those interfaces are flat and inflexible, and can’t be worn. The in-development smart fingertips make available a whole host of new applications, and “could significantly expand function in touch-based interfaces to computer systems, with applications in simulated surgery, therapeutic devices, robotic manipulation, and others.”
I can think of several more really cool ways of using this technology – gaming (of course!), or maybe internet-based grocery shopping (a ripe avocado is felt, not seen). I could definitely see it combined with a new technological initiative a shelter in California is using to try to boost it’s cat-adoption rates – VIRTUAL KITTY SNUGGLING. Sign me up!