Can you imagine a sensitive glove to enter Virtual Reality? Here it is

A team of MIT engineers has designed a new touch-sensitive glove that can “feel” pressure and other tactile stimuli

The researchers explain that the tactile glove could help retrain motor function and coordination in people who have suffered a stroke or other fine motor ability. But, in addition, they could become the gadget that Virtual Reality lacks to offer an experience indistinguishable from day to day, touch.

Its interior is lined with thin sensor electrodes, the size of a grain of sand, lined with thousands of microscopic gold filaments or “micro-pillars.” The glove could also be adapted to enhance virtual reality sensations and gaming experiences.

The team plans to integrate the pressure sensors not only into tactile gloves, but also into flexible adhesives to track pulse, blood pressure and other vital signs more accurately than smartwatches and other wearable monitors.

The glove’s inner lining is studded with tiny sand-grain-sized electrodes that can detect and map subtle changes in pressure. The glove could help restore motor function after hitting and enhance virtual gaming experiences.

When subjects wore the glove while lifting a balloon instead of a beaker, the sensors generated task-specific pressure maps. Holding a balloon produced a relatively uniform pressure signal across the entire palm, while holding a beaker created stronger pressure on the fingertips.

The inside of the glove carries a sensor system that detects, measures and maps small pressure changes in the glove. The individual sensors are highly tuned and can pick up very weak vibrations through the skin, such as a person’s pulse.

“The simplicity and reliability of our sensing framework holds great promise for a variety of healthcare applications, such as pulse sensing and sensory ability recovery in patients with tactile dysfunction,” says Nicholas Fang, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

Fang and his collaborators detail their results in a study that appears today in Nature Communications . Co-authors of the study include Huifeng Du and Liu Wang at MIT, along with Professor Chuanfei Guo’s group at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in China.

One of the pressure sensors can detect small and rapid pressure changes at the fingertips, such as when the fingers are lightly rubbed, as shown in this video.

glove pressure sensor

Feeling with sweat

Glove pressure sensors are similar in principle to sensors that measure humidity. These sensors, found in HVAC systems, refrigerators and weather stations, are designed as small capacitors, with two metal electrodes or plates, sandwiching a rubbery “dielectric” material that carries electrical charges between the two electrodes.

In humid conditions, the dielectric layer acts like a sponge to absorb charged ions from the surrounding moisture. This addition of ions changes the capacitance, or the amount of charge between the electrodes, in a way that can be quantified and converted into a measure of humidity.

When a sensor is squeezed, the charge balance in its dielectric layer changes, in a way that can be measured and converted to pressure. But the dielectric layer in most pressure sensors is relatively bulky, which limits its sensitivity.

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For their new touch sensors, the MIT and SUSTech team ditched the conventional dielectric layer in favor of a surprising ingredient: human sweat. Since sweat naturally contains ions like sodium and chloride, they reasoned that these ions could serve as dielectric substitutes. Instead of a sandwich structure, they envisioned two thin, flat electrodes, placed on the skin to form a circuit with a certain capacitance. If pressure were applied to a “sensor” electrode, ions from the skin’s natural moisture would collect at the bottom and change the capacitance between the two electrodes by a measurable amount.

They found that they could increase the sensitivity of the sensing electrode by covering its underside with a forest of tiny, flexible conductive hairs. Each hair would serve as a microscopic extension of the main electrode, so that if pressure were applied to, say, a corner of the electrode, the hairs in that specific region would bend in response and accumulate ions from the skin, grade, and location. it could be accurately measured and mapped.

In their new study, the team fabricated thin, grain-sized sensor electrodes coated with thousands of microscopic gold filaments, or “micro-pillars.”

They showed that they could accurately measure the degree to which clusters of micro-pillars bent in response to various forces and pressures. When they placed a sensor electrode and a control electrode on a volunteer’s fingertip, they found the structure to be very sensitive.

The sensors were able to pick up subtle phases in the person’s pulse, such as different peaks in the same cycle. They could also maintain accurate pulse readings, even when the person using the sensors waved their hands as they walked through a room.

“The pulse is a mechanical vibration that can also cause deformation of the skin, which we cannot feel, but the sensors in the glove can react,” says Fang.

A silk glove

They started with a silk glove. Next, they cut small squares of carbon cloth, a weave that is made up of many thin, micro-pillar-like filaments.

They turned each square of cloth into a sensing electrode by sprinkling it with gold, a naturally conductive metal. They then glued the cloth electrodes to various parts of the glove’s inner lining, including the fingertips and palms, and threaded conductive fibers throughout the glove to connect each electrode to the glove’s wrist, where the researchers attached an electrode. of control.
Several volunteers took turns wearing the touch glove and performing various tasks, such as holding a balloon and grabbing a glass beaker. The team collected readings from each sensor to create a glove pressure map during each task. The maps revealed distinct and detailed pressure patterns generated during each task.

This research was supported, in part, by the Joint Center for Research and Education in Mechanical Engineering at MIT and SUSTech.

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