Virtual reality doesn’t quite match up to the “reality” label without tactile sensations, but that might not be an issue for too much longer. Cornell scientists have developed a new form of stretchable skin sensor that uses fiber optics to provide a sense of touch. It’s inspired by silica-based fiber sensors that look for subtle wavelength changes to measure elements like temperature.
In a prototype glove, each finger has a stretchable lightguide that combines one transparent polyurethane core as well as an LED-linked core loaded with absorbent dyes. When you deform the lightguide through bending your fingers or encountering pressure, the dyes serve as “spatial encoders” that light up and register exactly what’s happening (and importantly, where).