For me personally, the talks and live panels on virtual reality (VR) were the most interesting and engaging talks as it is wonderful to see how scientists are developing heptic devices that could bring stimulated sense of touch in a way that we could feel the texture and sense the virtual structures.
Why don’t we have haptic suits with thousands of individual actuators (taxels) when every smartphone display has millions of individually addressed pixels? To answer that, Dr. Shea from EPFL has tried to give us his perspective obout this field and the challenges ahead.
Dr. Shea addresses the challenges very delicately: generating localized forces on the human body in a comfortable and safe way is a major challenge for soft actuation: both fast motion and high forces are needed, yet the device must conform to the human body, and consume low power
Dr. Shea's lab has focused on electrostatic actuation, using high electric fields to deform elastomers or textile structures. They have developed a textile-based brakes, with a fine thickness of 1 mm , that can effectively block the motion of two sliding strips in a few milliseconds and control the joint motion. Using such a technology, users could manipulate virtual objects much better with more accuracy and feel deeper immersion.
Their new fabrication method allows for high forces for use in full-body kinesthetic haptics by blocking shoulder and elbow motion to so that we could feel for instance how heavy an object is to push and feel it's "weight". Thier method also generate normal and shear forces with high spatial resolution, that allows mimicking different feeling such as if something is about to slip out of our hands.
There is definitely much more to learn by watching Dr. Shea's talk on MRS meeting website using this link.