Meta’s touch-sensitive robotic skin could form the main metaverse

A thin, replaceable skin which allows robots to “feel” could help in the construction of the metaverse, the proposed virtual future of the web being produced by Meta (formerly Facebook) and others.

Your skin, jointly developed by Meta and Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, combines a rubbery plastic less than 3 millimetres thick and studded with magnetic particles with an artificial intelligence to calibrate its sense of touch.

“In the event that you look at how AI has advanced, we’ve made huge advances in computer vision and sound,” says Abhinav Gupta at Meta AI Research. “But conspicuously, touch has been missing out of this advancement.”


When your skin touches a surface, the plastic deforms and alters the magnetic field created by the embedded particles. A local circuit board monitors these changes and feeds them to the AI, translating them right into a force and thus a feeling of touch.

The technology, referred to as ReSkin, can measure an impression as light as 0.1 newton of force with an accuracy of 1 1 millimetre, and monitor changes up to 400 times another. The associated AI requires training with 100 touches from a human to get enough data to understand how exactly to translate the changes in magnetic field into a sense of touch. The team tested the system’s delicate touch on soft fruit, including grapes and blueberries.

Read more: Super-stretchy robot skin may become brighter when it bends

Prior robotic skins that may “feel” have required built-in electronics to monitor the electrical changes that occur when your skin comes into contact with a surface. The ReSkin system only requires the monitoring equipment to maintain close proximity. Which means the material could be thinner and is less costly to make. At the moment, the materials necessary to make each ReSkin cost a lower amount than $6, if manufacturing a lot more than 100 units, says Gupta.

The team says the thinness of the skin, combined with its capability to be reused over 50,000 times prior to the magnetic particles need replacing, means it might have a number of applications, from robotic hands to dog shoes in a position to track how they walk, run and rest.

Gupta also says the improved sense of touch could possibly be used to provide a physical, haptic sensation to the virtual reality metaverse, which Meta believes may be the future. “When you’re wearing these headsets, you would like to generate richer and richer activities – and key to that is haptics,” he says.

“Overall, these devices is useful, and the utilization case of handling soft fruit is probably the very natural immediate applications,” says Jonathan Aitken at the University of Sheffield, UK. “Soft fruit and automated harvesting is a hard job, as it’s very simple to damage the produce. It requires an extremely soft touch and traditional robot sensors can flunk.” But Aitken highlights that the device can only just sense touch in one place at the same time.

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