Touch to feel the virtual world

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Posted July 3, 2013
Objects that can be touched and manipulated with the Actuated 3-D Display.

Objects that can be touched and manipulated with the Actuated 3-D Display.

Haptic technology, which simulates the sense of touch through tactile feedback mechanisms, has been described as “doing for the sense of touch what computer graphics does for vision.” Haptics are already common in devices such as smartphones, where touch sensations such as clicks and vibrations enhance the user experience. When it comes to virtual reality, however, it’s far more challenging to translate tactile cues. Auditory and visual feedback are fairly easy, and applications can be controlled using keyboards, joysticks, steering wheels, or, in the case of Kinect, the human body.


But how can a user touch and feel objects inside the virtual world? Can a flat touchscreen convey depth, weight, movement, and shape? Yes, say scientists in the Natural Interaction Research group at Microsoft Research Redmond. Mike Sinclair, Michel Pahud, and Hrvoje Benko mounted a multitouch, stereo-vision 3-D monitor on a robot arm to study how the kinesthetic haptic sense, which relates to motion rather than tactile touch, can augment touchscreen interactions.

The result is Actuated 3-D Display with Haptic Feedback, a project that features a haptic device that provides 3-D physical simulation with force feedback. The system consists of a touchscreen with a robot arm, engineered for instant, sensitive responsiveness, smooth forward and backward movement, and applications that support multitouch screen interactions, force sensing, 3-D visualizations, and depth movement. By moving a finger on the screen, the user can interact with on-screen 3-D objects and experience different force responses that correspond to the physical simulation. Demonstrated in public for the first time during TechFest 2013, the project intrigued attendees, who lined up to try this unique, immersive experience.

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