Fingertip vibrator boosts your sense of touch

Subtle vibrations make you more sensitive, at least as far as your fingertips go. It comes down to the right glove.

vibrating glove
With his glove, I make thee more sensitive. Georgia Tech

Combine the words "vibrator," "touch," and "heightened sensitivity," and the subject is obvious, right? A tricked-out glove that heightens your sense of touch.

The glove, developed by Georgia Tech researchers, includes a tiny vibrator that sits on the side of your finger. Turn the vibrator so low that you don't quite notice it vibrating, and voila, your fingertip is more sensitive to touch.

Prototype tests showed that the heightened-sensitivity glove enabled people to sense lighter touches and distinguish sensory points that were closer together than they could without it. People correctly distinguished among different fineness levels of sandpaper 15 percent more often with the glove.

The glove could help surgeons and others who rely on a fine sense of touch, and it could help people with an impaired sense of touch.

The principle behind the heightened sense of touch is the counterintuitive phenomenon stochastic resonance: adding noise can make a signal clearer. When you add noise to a communications channel, like a nerve in your fingertip, it boosts the regular signals traveling through the channel, in this case touch. Rather than drowning out the signal, the noise boosts it, much like a rising tide lifts a boat.

Researchers and start-up companies have been using vibrations and stochastic resonance to improve vision and balance. For example, there are shoes that subtly vibrate to make the elderly more stable on their feet.

I wonder if game controller and interface makers could add low-level vibrations to force-feedback devices to make manipulating virtual objects more lifelike.

The vibrator glove also begs an important question: what about other body parts?

 

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