02/11/2018 / By Rhonda Johansson
German and Austrian researchers have developed the smallest form of electronic skin to date. The e-skin device is about three micrometers thick, making it thinner than an average piece of human hair. The technology adds to the ever-growing industry of electronic devices set to merge robotics with humans. This new e-skin device can be placed on the palm of the hand and can be used to control virtual objects.
The researchers enthuse about their new project, claiming it “blends virtual and augmented reality technology.” Because of its size, the e-skin can be worn easily and offers users a wider range of use. The e-skin is powered by an electronic magnetic sensor which can interact with other magnetic fields. This means that the device can be used to control everyday objects already being powered by virtual reality, such as a virtual light bulb or a virtual keyboard. The user would simply have to swipe their hand to manipulate these virtual objects.
Technologies like this already exist, but are in the form of bulky gloves and glasses which can impede movement. The new e-skin offers an entirely unhampered experience; the skin looks like a band-aid or a tattoo on the hand. The researchers say that their technology can be added to other materials that are soft, malleable, and shapeable such as textiles or wearable electronics.
The challenge was taken up by Japanese startup Xenoma who incorporated e-skin technology into a shirt which fits like a tight suit. The skin-tight piece of clothing basically turns the torso into a motion controller, with whatever you do being projected into a virtual reality game or other motion-based apps. This shirt relies on Bluetooth which transmits data from the sensors into the nearby PC. The body shirt was unveiled at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and was highly praised for its design. Critics have said that Xenoma’s shirt was far more useful and easier to move in than Google’s smart jacket.
These announcements are exciting at face value but there are other electronics experts who warn that smart technology could lead to more sophisticated crimes and a society of humans all too dependent on automation. Let’s take this new e-skin technology as an example. The device allows user to control objects without seeing them. On one level, this could allow security professionals to manipulate buttons found in unsafe environments without actually having to be there. However, this also means that there is a possibility of a criminal doing the same thing. We are talking about escalation; as technology improves to make our lives easier, so too does the technology to destroy us.
Xenoma’s smart shirt is now only being applied to video games. Users can now really feel like their characters and hack and chop the enemy depending on the type of game being played. But what’s to stop the device from being used for real-life situations like robbing a bank or training children to know how to kill?
These may sound like an exaggeration, and we really hope that it turns out to be so. All the same, these are questions that need to be asked. Ignoring the further and potential implications of smart gadgets is irresponsible and dangerous.
The country’s biggest consumer electronics show recently just ended. Listed below are some of the newest technologies that we may be seeing in the market soon:
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