Thursday, March 6, 2008

Computers Convey Sense of Touch

Butterfly HapticsMulti-touch interfaces recently took center stage, again, with the introduction of newer Apple laptops outfitted with a multi-touch trackpad, and multi-touch is quickly working its way into your computer display as well.

My question is, how much feedback can this system give our actual sense of touch? Achieving this is a whole different set of objectives all together. A game controller does this, in a way. They’re a type of what is referred to as a haptic interface, the car crashes the joystick vibrates.

The newest haptic interface, developed by Ralph L. Hollis and team of Carnegie Mellon, allows you to feel a virtual product by providing users feedback on gravitational resistance and surface texture using magnetic levitation and, that’s right, a joystick. The difference here is the sensations that are delivered by Hollis’ haptic device mimic what the hand would feel with much more accuracy.

This is achieved through the implementation of a magnetic resistance to simulate sense of touch. The controller is topped with a hand grasp, and the stick ‘floats’, or is suspended by way of opposing magnetic fields in a bowl like apparatus.

Butterfly Haptics, the firm marketing the interface hopes to have this device ready and available by June or July.

Some expected applications include virtual surgery or virtual dentistry training. The trainees would be able sense the texture of a tissue, or feel the resistance from a tooth being drilled.

As the technology advances, haptic devices will seep into our everyday lives even further. Their pervasiveness is already evident. The popularity of vibrating cell phones and game controllers has eased this technology into our culture. Adapting more advanced haptic interfaces into our everyday lives shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.