We have a working prototype device and we have validated it. It gives a reliable and reproducible sensation of real fabrics in a virtual world.
Professor Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann, coordinator of the HAPTEX project as cited in Haptics: Just reach out and touch, virtually in Physorg.com.
HAPTEX stands for Haptic sensing of virtual textiles.
Magnenat-Thalmann and her team are working out the kinks of a system that will let folks feel textiles in an online environment. The article explains how they've developed:
a powered exoskeleton glove with a pair of pin arrays that provide tactile sensation to two fingers. The glove gives the sensation of bending and stretching the fabric, while the pin arrays convey texture. Then this integrated device is combined with the visual and tactile database to give an overall impression.
Knitters will be disappointed to hear that the system's not yet up to differentiating between cotton, wool and silk -- but they're working on it.
p.s. Mash it up with this and we're in business, baby.
Update: And, of course, it took a better mind than mine to recognize the obvious. This just in from a friend: "This could breathe new life into the porn industry!"
Solid point, although I'm not convinced the porn industry is lacking for life. ;)