August 7, 2007 Man-machine interfaces have predominantly targeted the aural and visual senses but improving technology has opened up the potential for new levels of interaction based on touch. At SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group for Computer Graphics) this year, Haptic Telexistence will be demonstrating its latest sophisticated touch interface and providing a glimpse of the huge potential for haptic interfaces.
Unlike sight and sound, the sense of touch (also known as tactition or mechanoreception), incorporates a variety of different sensations, including pressure and temperature. Being able to convey information through touch is a huge advantage simply because of the possible range it would have, compared to, for example, the relatively miniscule visual light spectrum. Equally appealing is the idea of advanced haptic technology allowing users to interact with software through a more intuitive method of physical movement. Instead of contorting our knuckles over the QWERTY keyboard, people could don haptic gloves and navigate through computers using a series of comfortable and familiar gestures. The gloves would assist the user by creating feelings of pressure or temperature as the user interacts with the software.
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The seeds of haptic technology have been evident for about a decade, however it has usually been applied in the bluntest possible fashion. Vibration alerts for incoming calls or messages on mobile phones are haptic, as are rumble features in the hand controllers for video game consoles. But the potential applications currently being touted for haptic sytems are far more exciting. One of the more prominent scenarios is a haptic surgery system, whereby doctors can remotely perform complicated medical operations, reducing travel time and possibly increasing success rates by allowing surgeons with specialties to perform more frequently. Another application is in 3D modeling, where designers would be free to use the immense subtlety and control of their hands, rather than a clumsy mouse and keyboard setup.
The Haptic Telexistence glove being exhibited at SIGGRAPH is a marked improvement over existing haptic devices, because in addition to communicating the stiffness of a virtual or remote material, it can also simulate the shape. The creators of the gauntlet comment: “Because this system can present properties such as texture and temperature, it will support dramatic improvements in human life. For example, not only will we be able to shake hands with people at remote locations but we will also be able to feel the warmth of their hands. While shopping on the web, we will be able to check the texture of an article before purchase.”
Haptic Telexistence’s stated ultimate goal is to present all the haptic sensations through a master-slave system. “Using current telepresence systems, we can interact with humans or objects even if they are located in remote places or in virtual environments. We can watch, listen, touch, and move objects. However, the properties of an object are not present in these systems, and that reduces realism and interactivity. Haptic Telexistence aims to provide highly realistic haptic interaction among human and objects in remote places. The system consists of four innovative devices: a dexterous slave hand, q finger-shaped haptic sensor for the slave hand, an encounter-type master hand, and an electro-tactile display. Each of these devices has more advantages than the corresponding conventional ones. In addition, integrating them to realize Haptic Telexistence is also a technical innovation.”
The Haptic Telexistence demonstration will take place at the SIGGRAPH exhibition, from August 7th-9th at the San Diego Convention Center.