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Scientists Create Prototype Phone Case Out of Artificial Skin

Dominique Adams

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artificial skin phone case

The new phone case lets users control their devices by pinching, squeezing and prodding the human-like skin cover. 

A team of scientists have developed a new type of phone case that could change how we interact with our smartphones and other devices.

Made from material that mimics human skin in both look and response, users can control their devices through a number of different forms of human contact such as tickling, caressing and pinching.

The team behind Skin-On said they have been able to successfully demonstrate tactile emotions with the use of emojis. Skin-On Interfaces are sensitive skin-like input methods that can be added to existing devices to increase their capabilities.

The artificial skin responds uniquely to a variety of different interactions, for example, tapping the skin causes the phone to display a surprised emoji while tickling it displays a laughing emoji. The material can also be attached to wearable devices and laptop touchpads.

“This skin has a subtle surface texture – the sensing is performed in the dermis and the hypodermis layer (fat layer) and the elasticity is what allows us to perform expressive gestures such as pinching,” said project leader Marc Teyssier.

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Skin-On is composed of two different types of silicone layers, and electrodes attached to a hardware controller. Teyssier said getting the right balance of materials was hard.

“The constraint was to develop something that was stretchable and that can also detect touch,” he said. Paint or makeup can be used to alter the artificial skin providing it with “flesh like tonal variation” to increase its anthropomorphism, he added.

Developed by researchers at the University of Bristol in partnership with Telecomm Paris Tech and Sorbonne University in Paris, the technology will be presented at the 32nd ACM User Interface Software and Technology Symposium in the US.

Teyssier said: “When we are talking to someone face to face, we sometimes use touch to convey emotions and more generally enrich the discourse. Now that mediated communication is performed through the devices, we lost this communication modality. With this project, we tried to combine the best of the two. The prototypes we developed propose a possible future with anthropomorphic devices.”

Dr Anne Roudaut, associate professor at the University of Bristol who worked on the project said, “We have seen many works trying to augment humans with parts of machines, here we look at the other way around and try to make the devices we use every day more like us, ie, human-like.”

At present, there are no plans to market the technology, “anyone can reproduce it” Teyssier commented. The materials used are mass-produced and each unit would cost less than £5 to build, he estimated.

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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