Do your devices only speak and show things, but never touch them?
Well, Rice University engineers are changing that. They’ve made special clothing that you can “tap” to send messages or instructions.
This could be great news for people who have trouble seeing or hearing.
Typically, technology makes little use of our sense of touch. Think about it — your phone, laptop, or even smartwatch mostly just shows you things on a screen or makes sounds.
But now scientists have made clothes that can touch you in ways that send complex signals.
So how did they do it?
They used what is known as “fluid control” to incorporate signals directly into the tissue. It sounds complicated, but it’s simply a clever way to use air pressure to make clothes tap, squeeze or vibrate.
You attach a small, lightweight tank of carbon dioxide (CO2) to a belt. This directs air into tiny pockets in the sleeves, causing them to inflate or deflate in different patterns.
This can be useful in many ways. For example, in a real test, the clothing guided a person through the streets of Houston. The taps on the sleeves told the person when to turn forward, left, or right. It’s like your clothes are a living GPS!
Even cooler, this technology reduces the need for complicated hardware. Instead of having to deal with lots of cables and electronic inputs, they were able to do with just a few because they built the complexity into the fabric itself.
This makes these smart garments more practical and easy to wear in everyday life.
This clothing could be especially helpful for people who have hearing or vision problems. For example, haptic – touch-based – feedback could support devices like cochlear implants. Cochlear implants help people with severe hearing loss but who may have trouble understanding speech in noisy places.
If the t-shirt could type in a way that amplifies what is heard, communication could become much easier.
In addition, people who have lost a limb could also benefit from this clothing. Sensors on a prosthetic limb could collect data, and clothing could relay that data to another part of the body as a touch signal.
These chic garments are also durable. They stand up to the rigors of everyday life, even washing. One of the researchers said that after washing, cutting and patching 25 times, it still worked perfectly!
So brace yourself for a future where your shirt could tap your shoulder to tell you the way, help you understand what someone is saying, or even make video games and movies more real through tactile sensations.
It’s like a new level of our interaction with the world, right at our fingertips – or, in this case, our sleeves!
The study was published in the journal Device.
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