File this one under "interesting, but weird." Researchers at the UK's University of Leeds are working on an artificial silicone finger connected to motors, sensors and software. The plan is to use the finger, an approximation of a human digit, to "stroke" different surfaces to get a reading of those surfaces' tactile appeal.
Why? To design better packages.
"Industry knows a lot about the importance of the visual design of packaging but there's a lack of understanding about the feel appeal," says [researcher Cathy] Barnes, who is also a manager at the Faraday Packaging Partnership in Leeds. "Imagine a carton of fruit juice that's as soft as peach skin."
We're not sure why they don't just use human fingers--most people at the focus groups we've been to had them--but you can read the details of their project here.
via new scientist