Last year we tracked how tech brands have been leaning into a reassuringly handmade aesthetic, using soft fabrics and imperfect illustrations to communicate a more approachable and unthreatening persona. Now, brands are taking this humanization of tech one step further, imbuing technology with human-like capabilities and attributes, blurring the categories of ‘human’ and ‘technological.’

By 2020, on average, people will have seven connected devices, according to Statista. Technology is embedded into almost every part of our lives, from waking us up in the morning to turning out our lights at night. Much of this technology is imperceptible but this could be about to change. While we’ve already seen the advent of technology that looks and sounds more human, now, researchers are looking to our epidermis to make technology actually feel more human.

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Skin-On Interfaces
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In October 2019, researchers behind Skin-On Interfaces revealed their phone case which mimics the haptics of human skin. The skin is able to sense multiple gestures such as strokes, stretches and various pressures and is able to translate these into functions to be carried out by the phone. For example, if the skin surface is twisted, users can alter their phones’ volume and if they tickle the skin, the device can even send a laughing emoji, creating an emotional connection between human and device. The team are also exploring the skin for other devices – such as smart watches and trackpads.

New skins aren’t only being explored for devices, but for humans too. In May 2019, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the US unveiled ElectroDermis, a wearable electronic bandage which can be used to monitor the body for a variety of medical, fitness and lifestyle purposes. Unlike other wearable tech, the ElectroDermis bandage is flexible and elastic meaning it can be secured to all parts of the body unobtrusively and with ease.

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In September 2019, Swiss researchers revealed a wearable skin which allows virtual reality (VR) users to feel objects in virtual environments. The skin, made from silicone and electrodes, is filled with sensors and actuators which work together to create a certain vibrating sensation, mimicking a realistic sense of touch. So far, the prototype is limited to a finger accessory, however researchers are hopeful for more options in the future.

Projects like these provide a unique window of insight into the future of tactile technology. Will we be more prepared to interact with technology that feels more human? Or will this venture on the Uncanny Valley effect? Brands will need to carefully navigate this new world of blurred human and technology touch.

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