From electronic skin to regaining a sense of smell
For CityU researchers Liu Yiming and Yiu Chun-ki, the cutting-edge human-machine interface (CL-HMI) system they helped to develop as part of a University co-led team during the days of the pandemic offers a fresh way to protect the health of frontline medical workers. Now they are striving to extend the system’s capabilities to widen awareness of how clinical advances can be made via the metaverse.
Based on the flexible, multi-layered electronic skin devised by the team, the Robotic Virtual Reality (VR) system facilitates the remote operation of robots. In assisting the machines to imitate even subtle motion of users, it enables robots to perform complicated tasks, such as collecting samples for COVID-19 tests and providing patient care, overcoming a shortcoming in conventional HMIs. In addition to visual feedback, sensors on the robot can provide physically felt (haptic) feedback to the user, addressing another traditional challenge.
The research is being led by Associate Professor Dr Yu Xinge, Department of Biomedical Engineering, who specialises in novel applications of flexible electronics for the biomedical field. It was the presence of Dr Yu, who joined CityU in 2018, that motivated Yiming to undertake his doctorate at the University. At the time, though, it never crossed the young researcher’s mind that he would have a chance to become involved in applications of the concepts he was to study. He now greatly appreciates his experiences, recognising the impact that applied work can have on the wider community.
While the ideas behind the Robotic VR technology were formulated before the pandemic, early thinking revolved around relatively complicated procedures. Later, it was integrated with the metaverse concept, with the ultimate goal of developing an easy-to-wear system that ensures free human movement and makes virtual-reality interconnection possible, Yiming explained. “When the team noticed that medical workers were becoming infected during the pandemic, they adjusted the research so that the new system could handle high-risk tasks, such as testing and patient care. Efficiency was also increased by making it possible for several machines to be controlled by the same person, which would enable more lives to be saved,” he said.
Chun-ki said that as life begins to normalise after the pandemic, the team is endeavouring to employ the new system to develop mixed-reality technologies to allow users to easily switch between virtual and real worlds. One goal is to reactivate senses that have been lost due to illness or other causes. “We have already developed a feedback system that could be applied in a virtual reality environment to re-train people’s sense of smell,” Chun-ki said. “We believe this could be very useful in promoting metaverse technologies and applications.”