What’s the News: Georgia Tech researchers have now created a glove that heightens your sense of touch. Presented in May at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, the glove—which applies high-frequency vibrations to the side of an exposed fingertip—can improve a wearer’s motor skills and tactile sensitivity. “This device may one day be used to assist individuals whose jobs require high-precision manual dexterity or those with medical conditions that reduce their sense of touch,” Georgia Tech assistant professor Jun Ueda said in a prepared statement.
What’s the Context:
- Scientists have known for a while that adding the appropriate amount of white noise to a sensory experience can temporarily improve specific senses, such as sight and hearing, and even balance. But the concept, called stochastic resonance, has never been added to a wearable device.
- Perhaps related to Ueda’s device, researchers in 2009 learned that the vibrations of your fingerprints play a role in your sense of touch.
How the Heck:
- The key part of the glove is an actuator, made from layers of lead zirconate titanate, which generates steady, high-frequency vibrations that provide a kind of white noise to the wearer’s sense of touch. They then attached the actuator to a glove that leaves the index finger exposed. The actuator only makes contact with the side of the fingertip, leaving the sensitive palm side free to touch things.
- The researchers tested the device on 10 volunteers in several different experiments, and saw statistically significant improvements in the participants’ sense of touch across the board. In one test, the volunteers had to match up different pieces of sandpaper that were hidden from their view: they chose the correct sandpaper 15 percent more often when they were exposed to the vibrations than not.
- In another experiment, the researchers touched the participants’ exposed fingers with strands of fiber of various weights. The stimulated white noise allowed them to feel lighter filaments.
The Future Holds: The researchers are now trying to determine the optimal amplitude and frequency for their device, since the participants experienced maximum sensory boosts at different vibrations. The team will also be looking into the effects of long-term exposure to the vibrations.
Image courtesy of Georgia Tech/Gary Meek