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The “universal law of touch” will enable new advances in virtual reality



to touch

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Seismic waves, commonly associated with earthquakes, have been used by scientists to develop a universal scale law for the sense of touch. A team, led by researchers from the University of Birmingham, used Rayleigh waves to create the first scaling law for touch sensitivity. The results are published in Advances in science.

The researchers are part of a European consortium (H-Reality) that is already using the theory to develop new virtual reality technologies that incorporate the sense of touch.

Rayleigh waves are created by the impact of objects and are commonly thought to travel only along surfaces. The team found that, when it comes to touching, the waves also travel through layers of skin and bone and are picked up by the body̵

7;s touch receptor cells.

Using mathematical models of these tactile receptors, the researchers showed how the receptors were located at depths that allowed them to respond to Rayleigh waves. The interaction of these receptors with Rayleigh waves will vary between species, but the relationship between receptor depth and wavelength remains the same, allowing the universal law to be defined.

The mathematics used by researchers to develop the law is based on approaches first developed over a hundred years ago to model earthquakes. The law supports predictions made by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Georg von Békésy who first suggested that earthquake math could be used to explore the connections between Rayleigh waves and touch.







Seismic waves, commonly associated with earthquakes, have been used by scientists to develop a universal scale law for the sense of touch. A team, led by researchers from the University of Birmingham, used Rayleigh waves to create the first scaling law for touch sensitivity. Credit: University of Birmingham

The team also found that the interaction of waves and receptors remained even as the stiffness of the outermost layer of the skin changed. The ability of the receptors to respond to Rayleigh waves remained unchanged despite the numerous variations in this outer layer due to age, sex, profession or even hydration.

Dr Tom Montenegro-Johnson, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Mathematics, led the research. He explains: “Touch is a primal sense, as important to our ancient ancestors as it is to modern mammals, but it is also one of the most complex and therefore least understood. Even though we have universal laws to explain sight and hearing, for example, this is the first time we’ve been able to explain touch in this way. “

James Andrews, co-author of the study at the University of Birmingham, adds: “The principles we have defined allow us to better understand the different experiences of touch across a wide range of species. For example, if you enter the skin of a rhinoceros 5mm, would feel the same as a human with a similar indentation – it’s just that the forces required to produce the indentation would be different. This makes a lot of evolutionary sense, as it is related to relative danger and potential harm.


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More information:
J.W. Andrews el al., “A universal scaling law of Mammalian Touch”, Advances in science (2020). advances.sciencemag.org/lookup… .1126 / sciadv.abb6912

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Birmingham University




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The ‘Universal Law of Touch’ Will Enable New Advances in Virtual Reality (2020, October 9)
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