The goal of the four-year "Manufhaptics" project led by EPFL is a glove that makes virtual worlds tangible. The decisive factor here is that all components of the glove, which exert various forces on the surface of the hand, should be producible in the 3D printer. This was reported by Empa in a press release.
To ensure that virtual surfaces feel real and that the objects are also tangible in the right size, the research teams from EPFL, ETH Zurich and Empa want to integrate three different types of actuators into the glove: On the underside of the fingers, nubs can grow up to imitate a certain texture of a surface.
In the area of the finger joints, electrostatic brakes are mounted that stiffen the glove and block the joints. This simulates larger, solid objects that offer resistance when touched.
The third type of actuators that complete the virtual experience are called DEA, short for dielectric elastic actuators. These DEA are used on the back of the hand; they tighten the outer skin of the glove so that it fits perfectly in all places. During the VR experience, they can also exert pressure on the surface of the hand.
1000 fine layers
The Manufhaptics project presents the researchers with new challenges: For example, everything has to work without solvents: The plan is to superimpose up to 1000 fine layers from the 3D printer. In addition, the two different inks needed for this must have exactly the right consistency to flow out of the 3D printer's nozzle.
After a long series of experiments, the team found a promising formulation and successfully processed the material into several layers in the 3D printer. There are not yet 1000 layers, in fact only about 10, and the "artificial muscle" from the 3D printer does not yet function satisfactorily. But the researchers are confident that they will master the task - possibly as the first research team in the world.
Written by: as
Illustration: Herbert Shea, EPFL