Nav: Home

Virtual reality goes magnetic

January 19, 2018

The recent success of Pokémon GO made many people very familiar with the concept of "augmented reality": computer-generated perception blends into the real and virtual worlds. So far, these apps have largely used optical methods for motion detection. Physicists at the German Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) working together with colleagues at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research (IFW) and the Johannes Kepler University Linz (JKU) (Austria) have now developed an ultrathin electronic magnetic sensor that can be worn on skin. Just by interacting with magnetic fields, the device enables a touchless manipulation of virtual and physical objects. The results are published in the journal Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao2623).

At first glance, the shiny little gold elements look like a modern tattoo. But on this extremely thin, almost invisible foil that sticks to the palm of the hand like a second skin, there are sensors which provide people with a "sixth sense" for magnetic fields. These sensors will enable people to manipulate everyday objects or control appliances both in the physical world and in augmented or virtual reality with mere gestures, similar to how we use a smartphone now. This is the vision nurtured by Dr. Denys Makarov of the Institute of Ion Beam Physics and Materials Research at HZDR.

For the first time, the physicist and his team - together with the groups of Prof. Oliver G. Schmidt at IFW Dresden and Prof. Martin Kaltenbrunner in the Soft Electronics Laboratory at JKU Linz - have now demonstrated that the ultrathin, compliant magnetic field sensors in combination with a permanent magnet are able to sense and process body motion in a room. "Our electronic skin traces the movement of a hand, for example, by changing its position with respect to the external magnetic field of a permanent magnet," explains Cañón Bermúdez of HZDR, the lead author of the study. "This not only means that we can digitize its rotations and translate them to the virtual world but also even influence objects there." Using this technique, the researchers managed to control a virtual light bulb on a computer screen in a touchless way.

A virtual lamp

To achieve this result, they set a permanent magnet in a ring-shaped plastic structure emulating a dial. Then, they associated the angle between the wearable sensor and the magnetic source with a control parameter which modulated the intensity of the light bulb. "By coding the angles between 0 and 180 degrees so that they corresponded to a typical hand movement when adjusting a lamp, we created a dimmer - and controlled it just with a hand movement over the permanent magnet," says Makarov, describing one of the experiments. The researchers were also able to use a virtual dial in the same way. The physicists at Dresden envision that their approach provides a unique alternative for interfacing the physical and the virtual world that goes far beyond what is possible with current technologies.

"To manipulate virtual objects, current systems essentially capture a moving body by optical means," Makarov explains. "This requires, on one hand, a load of cameras and accelerometers and, on the other hand, fast image data processing. However, usually the resolution is not sufficient to reconstruct fine movements of the fingers. Moreover, because they are so bulky, the standard gloves and glasses hamper the experience of virtual reality." The skin-like sensors could be a better way of connecting human and machine, according to Martin Kaltenbrunner: "As our polymer foils are not even three micrometers thick, you can easily wear them on your body. Just by way of comparison: a normal human hair is roughly 50 micrometers thick."

As further experiments have shown, the sensors can also withstand bending, folding and stretching without losing their functionality. Thus, in Oliver G. Schmidt's opinion, they are suitable for the incorporation into soft, shapeable materials like textiles to manufacture wearable electronics. Makarov sees an additional advantage to the new approach in contrast to optical systems: no direct line of sight between the object and the sensors is necessary. This could open up potential applications in the security industry, as well. Buttons or control panels in rooms which cannot be entered in hazardous situations, for example, could be operated by remote control via the sensors.
-end-
Publication:

G.S. Canón Bermúdez, D.D. Karnaushenko, D. Karnaushenko, A. Lebanov, L. Bischoff, M. Kaltenbrunner, J. Fassbender, O.G. Schmidt, D. Makarov: Magnetosensitive e-skins with directional perception for augmented reality, in Science Advances, 2018 (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao2623)

Additional information:

Dr. Denys Makarov
Institute of Ion Beam Physics and Materials Research at HZDR
49-351-260-3273
d.makarov@hzdr.de

Media contact:

Simon Schmitt
Science editor
49-351-260-3400
s.schmitt@hzdr.de
Communications and Media Relations
Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf
Bautzner Landstr. 400 | 01328 Dresden / Germany

The Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) performs research in the fields of energy, health, and matter. We focus on answering the following questions:
  • How can energy and resources be utilized in an efficient, safe, and sustainable way?
  • How can malignant tumors be more precisely visualized, characterized, and more effectively treated?
  • How do matter and materials behave under the influence of strong fields and in smallest dimensions?
To help answer these research questions, HZDR operates large-scale facilities, which are also used by visiting researchers: the Ion Beam Center, the High-Magnetic Field Laboratory Dresden, and the ELBE Center for High-Power Radiation Sources. HZDR is a member of the Helmholtz Association and has five sites in Dresden, Freiberg, Grenoble, Hamburg and Leipzig with approximately 1,100 members of staff, of whom about 500 are scientists, including 150 Ph.D. candidates.

Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf

Related Magnetic Fields Articles:

New metrology technique measures electric fields
It is crucial that mobile phones and other wireless devices -- so prevalent today -- have accurate and traceable measurements for electric fields and radiated power.
First direct exploration of magnetic fields in the upper solar atmosphere
Scientists have explored the magnetic field in upper solar atmosphere by observing the polarization of ultraviolet light with the CLASP sounding rocket experiment during its 5-minute flight in space on Sept.
New method can model chemistry in extreme magnetic fields of white dwarfs
Approximately 10-20 percent of white dwarfs exhibit strong magnetic fields, which can reach up to 100,000 tesla.
Researchers control soft robots using magnetic fields
Engineering researchers have made a fundamental advance in controlling so-called soft robots, using magnetic fields to remotely manipulate microparticle chains embedded in soft robotic devices.
Steering towards grazing fields
It makes sense that a 1,200 pound Angus cow would place quite a lot of pressure on the ground on which it walks.
Researchers propose technique for measuring weak or nonexistent magnetic fields
Researchers at the University of Iowa have proposed a new approach to sampling materials with weak or no magnetic fields.
Magnetic fields at the crossroads
Almost all information that exists in contemporary society is recorded in magnetic media, like hard drive disks.
Researchers coax particles to form vortices using magnetic fields
Researchers at Argonne created tiny swirling vortices out of magnetic particles, providing insight into the behavior that governs such systems -- which opens up new opportunities for materials and devices with new properties.
Earth's magnetic fields could track ocean heat, NASA study proposes
As Earth warms, much of the extra heat is stored in the planet's ocean.
Simulations by PPPL physicists suggest that magnetic fields can calm plasma instabilities
PPPL physicists have conducted simulations that suggest that applying magnetic fields to fusion plasmas can control instabilities known as Alfvén waves that can reduce the efficiency of fusion reactions.

Related Magnetic Fields Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#530 Why Aren't We Dead Yet?
We only notice our immune systems when they aren't working properly, or when they're under attack. How does our immune system understand what bits of us are us, and what bits are invading germs and viruses? How different are human immune systems from the immune systems of other creatures? And is the immune system so often the target of sketchy medical advice? Those questions and more, this week in our conversation with author Idan Ben-Barak about his book "Why Aren't We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System".