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Paging David Cronenberg: Creepy, human-like phone ‘skin’ is ticklish, responds to touch

By Benjamin Bullard
Skin On Interface phone skin

Like a leftover piece of organic tech that didn’t make the cut for David Cronenberg’s 1999 sci-fi horror mash-up eXistenZ, a new development in interactive electronics has arrived two decades later to give us an unsettlingly close connection to all our escapist gadgetry.

Engadget reports that French and British researchers have come up with a new, touch-sensitive tissue that mimics the look and responsiveness of human skin, and they’re touting its potential usefulness by wrapping it around a smart phone (among other things), where your mobile device serves as a way to telegraph what the fake skin is “feeling” when you touch it.

Looking like a formless hunk of organic matter that’s swallowed up your phone like the Blob, the Skin-On Interface bears more than a passing resemblance to Cronenberg’s low-fi vision of the future. eXistenZ featured a VR game that offered drug-like levels of escapism, played by fusing bodies and electronic consoles that plug directly into a person’s spinal cord via a blobby, skin-like umbilicus.

Skin-On makes no claims (so far) to bridge that kind of distance between man and machine, but it does possess some pretty mind-blowing organic properties, including a three-layered integumentary system composed of a “hypodermis layer, an electrode layer of conductive threads, and a textured surface layer,” according to the report. Together, the three layers allow the fake skin to “‘feel’ a variety of gestures and interactions, such as tickling, stroking and pinching.”

As you can see in the clip, this creepy skin-like stuff is indeed capable of picking up on what’s happening to it. Paired with adaptive-learning AI, Skin-On can distinguish the difference between a gentle stroke and a hard pinch, and display on your device’s screen a corresponding visual to let you know its corresponding “emotional” reaction. So far, the input is only one-way, which means that this fleshy blob isn’t going to be reaching out to touch you back anytime soon — and that’s just fine by us. 

If you’re eager to track down a consumer-grade Skin-On phone case, well … we’re not quite there yet. For now, it’s still a science project, but it’s one that co-creator Marc Teyssier says could forge a “new paradigm” in interactive technology, one that eventually will allow people to develop a human-like level of interaction with their personal tech … if, that is, you're ready to take reaching out and touching your tech to a whole new level.

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