Deakin researchers get a grip on virtual ‘sense of touch’ technology
15 July 2009
Researchers at Deakin University believe their development of the multi-point 'Haptic Gripper', which uses haptics (sense of touch) technology to grasp and manipulate objects in virtual space will open up exciting new directions in training, design and manufacture – possibly even enabling medical students to be taught using virtual organs.
Director of Deakin's Centre for Intelligent Systems ResearchAlfred Deakin Professor Saeid Nahavandi said the patented multi-point capability of the Haptic Gripper is the key to its future potential.
"Haptics technology lets you touch objects in virtual space as if they are real. The majority of current devices comprise of a single point of contact which in effect is like touching an object with only one finger, you can't grasp or manipulate it.
"The Haptic Gripper attaches to existing single-point haptics devices to provide multi-point contact which means you can use your thumb and index finger to feel the object, the shape of the surface and its texture," he said. The device also provides the user with sensory feedback, enhancing the feeling that they are gripping a real object.
Professor Nahavandi said multi-point haptics technology had exciting potential in a variety of areas and industries.
"We have created a research platform that has applications in several domains. For instance, simulated training for medical students where they can touch and manipulate human organs in virtual space. The user can also get the sense of a cavity or space within an object as well, so a student could get an idea of what it is like to feel their way through an incision to the organ inside.
"There is also the possibility of haptically enabled teleoperative surgery where a surgeon operates on a patient remotely," he said.
Virtual design and prototyping is another area where the new technology has a lot to offer.
"Multi-point haptics capability means engineers and designers will potentially be able to grasp and manipulate rigid and flexible objects in virtual 3D space, adding another dimension to the design process. Not only will they be able to see what they are designing, they will be able to feel it.
"I believe there are many potential applications for this capability, particularly in the aerospace, automotive and manufacturing industries," Professor Nahavandi noted.
Being able to protect people from hazardous situations is another possible use identified for the technology, such as being able to handle toxic materials remotely.
The Haptic Gripper was recently declared a winner on ABC TV's The New Inventors program where its potential benefits and uses were presented to the judges by Professor Nahavandi and Deakin research fellow Zoran Najdovski.
Professor Nahavandi believes the potential of Deakin's multi-point haptics research is – perhaps literally – out of this world.
"I think the haptics capability we have developed which allows us to touch and feel a virtual or remote object beyond a single point of contact opens new doors in training and teleoperative systems.
"Ultimately this technology could be used to enable people to touch and feel the surface of Mars or, who knows, maybe even shake the hand of a Martian!"
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