Controlling computing devices currently relies on less-than-immersive touch mechanisms, keyboards, gamepads, and other such input methods, but a project showcasing electronic skin may change all of that. The project is shown off in two YouTube videos posted by magazine IEEE Spectrum, in which it's used to control a rotating touchless dial to dim light and type on a rudimentary virtual keyboard. Both use cases took advantage of external devices that sensed the movement of the electronic skin, but the skin does have its own magnetic sensor array on board. Additionally, adding independent and codependent motion sensors near the electronic skin, such as on a vest, could yield true freedom of movement with full-arm or even full-body sensing, akin to a VR glove.
The electronic skin project was posted by IEEE Spectrum, but it actually originates from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf research center in Dresden, Germany. The electronic skin on show is magnetosensitive, which means that it uses a series of magnetic sensors to both respond to movements and other stimuli, and to provide input to companion devices. The trick is in a magnetic field emitted by each sensor; the sensors inside the patch of skin shown in the videos are arranged in such a way that the fields intersect, and the strength and characteristics of those fields can be used to detect subtle movements. More hardware, such as larger magnetic sensors elsewhere, would be required for full motion sensing functionality that addresses both fine limb movement and full-body motions.
The potential uses of such a project, once it comes to full fruition, are fairly obvious, and very wide. Virtual reality is the first thing that jumps to mind, but the researchers in charge of the project also pointed to smart home control, such as managing music volume, along with robotics and rehabilitative medicine, among others. Extra hardware could also be applied to the sensors, such as haptic feedback modules, to facilitate additional use cases or enhance existing ones. The implications of such a breakthrough are vast; VR gaming could become infinitely more immersive, remote workers could be productive with nothing but their phones, medical staff could perform procedures remotely, and much more applications are likely to be devised should the technology ever come close to being commercialized.