Manav Kataria's Blog

Haptics – The Story of Touch

I recently wrote an article for a tech newsletter.

The Story of Touch

The plot:
Once upon a time, there lived a legendary computer wizard called  Dumbledore, who found
modern gadgets very boring! He wanted computers to behave and feel like the real world!
Having a keen interest in applied research, he set out on a journey to explore how humans
perceive the world.

Once upon a time, there lived a legendary computer wizard called Dumbledore, who found modern gadgets very boring! He wanted computers to behave and feel like the real world! Having a keen interest in applied research, he set out on a journey to explore how humans perceive the materialistic world.

Humans interact  with  today’s gadgets in many ways.  We punch in keystrokes,  move the mouse, touch and tilt the iPhone and if you are Stephen Hawking, even use brain waves to command the computer to perform a certain task! And how do these gadgets respond to you? Mostly,  just with visual and auditory output.

“Is that the end of it?” Dumbledore wondered … “Is this all what modern technology can do?!”  discontented he went on to take a deeper look …

Humans he found, start by a visual scan of an object, like to hear its sound, and touch it – to feel its shape, size, texture and weight to satisfy their curiosity of exploring new & interesting things.

Dumbledore  having   gathered   this   new  knowledge  wanted   to   share   this   information  with others, so he posted his findings online. Naruto – a student at IIT, having read Dumbledore’s blog, soon realized what today’s technology was truly missing – the sense of touch! Naruto called it: “Haptics-no-jutsu!”

What is this Hap-ticks??
What is Haptics?

The  science of sensing and manipulation  through  touch  is called  Haptics.  The word  originated from Greek root: Haptesthai, meaning “to touch”. Analysis of Haptics is subdivided into three sub-domains:

  • Human Haptics –  how we perceive touch as neuro-physiological signals
  • Machine  Haptics – design,   implementation  and control  of  a  human-computer-interface devices to send and receive force & torque
  • Computer  Haptics –  simulation   (encoding  &  rendering)   and  communication   of  haptic signals in digital environments

Recent advances in virtual reality and robotics enable the human tactual system to be stimulated electro-mechanically through force feedback devices! Such devices are known as Haptic interfaces. We have a device here at the Haptics Lab of IITB,  where we could feel a simulated rock,  sand, magnet and even ice! Imagine playing video games with Haptics! …

Why Study Haptics?

Naruto was very intelligent but lazy! It was not until he heard Srinivasan Sensei’s words that he was actually motivated to do Haptics research:

“Given the ever-increasing quantities and types of information that surround us, there is a critical need to explore new ways to interact with information. Our haptic system – with its tactile, kinesthetic and motor capabilities together with the associated cognitive processes – present a uniquely bidirectional information channel to our brain and offers such a fantastic medium!” – said Prof Srinivasan M.A, Director, Touch Lab, MIT

Limitless Applications:

Naruto joined Dumbledore to realize many interdisciplinary applications of Haptics:

  • Medicine
    • surgical simulators for medical training
    • remote diagnosis for telemedicine
    • hearing aids for the deaf and interfaces for the blind
  • Entertainment
    • video games than let the user feel and manipulate virtual solids, fluids and avatars
  • Education
    • giving students a feel of physical phenomena at nano or macro scales
    • High risk training
  • Art
    • virtual concert rooms in which the user can login remotely to play a musical instrument
    • art exhibits and museums that allow touching and feel of expensive and rare objects without the risk of corrupting them
    • imagine flying the first plane built by Wright brothers

The Awesomeness:

Naruto and Dumbledore decided to pass on their knowledge to the younger generation, which they believed could still fascinate the world with its awesomeness:

  • Imagine using a touch-screen versus a keypad. A keypad feels much better because you can touch and feel the keys and is also less error prone as compared to a touch-screen without any Haptic feedback.
  • One of the greatest things about Haptics is that it enables a non-visual feedback – an ability that could be used to aid the disabled. During the Haptics workshop (Techfest 2009) we prepared a gadget that aided deaf to hear using principles like bone-conduction!

Researchers even today continue to discover considerable benefits of implementing Haptics in modern-day systems. I reckon something new, better and versatile is yet to unveil! To-be-continued …

Manav Kataria
with Tapu Dum

Haptics – The Story of Touch [PDF]

Many thanks to Disha and Jyothi for their invaluable feedback!

One response

  1. Pingback: Deaf haptics | Yourcomfortcaf

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