From mouse, to stylus, to finger: our virtual tactile perception has changed a lot over the years, just like our overall virtual experience. With new developments our virtual world is becoming increasingly more tangible. Last month Mark Zuckerberg introduced the arrival of Meta, Facebook's new mothership. With meta, Zuckerberg hints at his plan to bet on the metaverse: a virtual world where the user “steps into" the internet,instead of staring at a two-dimensional screen. This metaverse can be seen as announcing a new virtual era, one where our senses are stimulated as ‘real’' as possible. Sound and vision have already been well optimized, but tactile perception still leaves something to desired. But with the arrival of Meta's ReSkin, that could change very soon.
ReSkin is a touch-sensitive electronic skin developed by Meta in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University. The skin, made from a stretchable elastomer membrane, is embedded with magnetic microparticles. When the membrane stretches due to movement, the space between the microparticles shifts which leads to the magnetic field to change. Special algorithms are trained to understand these changes and decipher them into movements like throwing and clapping. ReSkin is also very user friendly: its production costs are low and worn out skin can be easily replaced. And due to its versatility the skin can be incorporated into different items like robothands, smart wearable gloves and even prosthetics.
The project is open source: all ReSkin components like code and base models are free to use so other AI researchers can also easily experiment with it. This could help gather data on tactile and detection, information that is not very comprehensive at this moment and could help improve AI-based technologies. But of course, its main goal is to provide a realistic sense of touch that adds a new layer to our virtual experience. When virtual touch is tangible, will we see people holding hands during their metaverse dates?