Journalists write stories for different reasons. Some stories concern major developments from the corporations we cover on an ongoing basis. Some stories get written because they’re viewed as important, even if we know they won’t pull many readers. And some stories — some stories, Dear Reader, are more-or-less written because of the author’s visceral sense of disgust.
This is one of those stories.
A group of researchers working for a company named “Skin-On” have developed a novel and horrifying method for controlling a device: Human-like skin.
As Marc Teyssier, the apparent project lead, says: “Human skin is the best interface for interaction. I propose this new paradigm in which interactive devices have their own artificial skin, thus enabling new forms of input gestures for end-users.”
It looks like this:
Let me be the first to say that science isn’t always pretty. Anyone who has seen the aftermath of major surgery is aware that science can be awesome and stomach-turning at the same time. But I cannot fathom the sequence of events that would lead me to keep a few square inches of what certainly looks like person just hanging around on my desk or attached to my phone.
According to Teyssier, the purpose of Skin-On is to create new and unique touch-based interfaces using skin. It’s not a crazy idea. Human skin is a remarkable sensory organ. It’s flexible, durable, and self-repairing. It tracks multiple kinds of data, including stretching, cold, heat, vibrations, pressure, and the texture of the things we touch. On top of all of this, it protects us from injury. Skin, objectively speaking, is pretty remarkable. A lot of research has been done on developing artificial skin because of its numerous applications, from helping critically injured burn victims to building robots with sensor networks that respond more like our own.
I can’t fault Teyssier’s idea, but I’ve got a bone to pick with his product designer. Some products fall into the Uncanny Valley. Some gleefully aim for it.
If you can imagine yourself caressing and pinching a brick of smart skin while an on-screen avatar flexes polygonal facial muscles in a grimacing approximation of emotion without feeling 10,000 percent more like a serial killer, congratulations. You are not me.
How It “Works”
Skin On is created by pouring DragonSkin silicon into a mold. Conductive thread is placed in a grid on top of an artificial epidermis, followed by a “hypodermis” — EcoFlex gel is apparently used to create a thick layer of artificial fat. Electrodes are then soldered to a hardware platform to connect the entire affair. A video on the fabrication process is embedded below, for your viewing displeasure. Try not to notice how the electrodes look like long, thin hairs.
Teyssier writes: “I developed an Open Source and Open Hardware multitouch controller to enable DIY fabrication of multi-touch interfaces on unconventional surfaces such as human skin,” likely nominating himself for an Ig Nobel in the process, not to mention whatever scientific awards are awarded in the sixth circle of hell.
The breakout box allows for 12 sensing electrodes and 21 transmitting electrodes. Teyssier writes, “You want to try one unit? Contact me!”
Please do not contact him. There are reports that placing five of these products in a pentagram may cause the formation of a Hellmouth.
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