The movie Ready Player One lets people see more possibilities of virtual reality (VR) applications. However, the technology supporting the X1 Bootsuit had already been realized back in 2019.
This technology is called “epidermal VR”, which was a thin, skin-like, wireless haptic system that expands VR from the traditional visual or auditory experience to the sense of touch. The team behind this is led by Dr. Xinge Yu, an assistant professor at the City University of Hong Kong.
Based on the advanced mechanical design, the haptic interface mounted on the skin can create a sense of touch via a programmable array of mechanical vibrating actuators. Each actuator is designed to resonate at the skin's most sensitive frequency (200 Hz) and can be individually controlled, programmed wirelessly. The ultra-thin, skin-integrated haptic interfaces can be comfortably laminated onto all the locations of the curved body surfaces.
Wireless communication is realized with the near-field communication (NFC) technique, which is a very typical technology used in current smartphones. According to advanced electrical and electronics design, the communication distance of the device can be as long as 1 meter. Therefore, touchscreen interfaces, such as smartphones tablets or laptops, can wirelessly control the actuators in the epidermal VR device and transmit the user’s touch command to the soft device.
Xinge completed his Ph.D. at Northwestern University from 2011 to 2015, during which he was mainly engaged in the research of printing-based metal oxide electronics. During his Ph.D. study, he proposed the use of solution printing to synthesize flexible metal oxide films and the preparation of flexible devices. He was also able to create metal oxide semiconductor devices comparable to vacuum physical deposition.
Xinge then went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for post-doctoral research. During this period, he discovered that the special performance of flexible electronic devices had the potential to solve medical challenges, which later became his main research direction. In 2018, he returned to China and became an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, City University of Hong Kong. He has published a series of research papers related to flexible electronic technology in Nature, Nature Communications, and Science Advances since then.
“It’s not like there is a pivot point for me to get into this research field and start working on flexible electronic technology all of a sudden, ” Xinge said. “There are many researchers, but I think everyone seems to be stuck in the same challenge, the feedback device.”
This made him aware of the difficulties and opportunities facing the industry.
“I believe as long as the feedback challenge is solved, flexible electronic technology will usher in a huge room for growth.”