The term ‘haptics’ refers to the sense of touch or tactile feedback. You are likely to be in day-to-day contact with a basic form of haptic technology if you own a modern mobile phone. Those subtle vibrations which acknowledge a key press are known as ‘haptic feedback’.
In this feature, we explore how some of our university clients are using one of the most popular haptic devices we supply – the Geomagic Touch (formally known as the Phantom Omni), for groundbreaking research.
Haptics – “The scientific study of touch based interaction between an agent and its environment.”
First, let’s explain what the Geomagic Touch is.
The Geomagic Touch is a professional portable, cost-effective device that applies force feedback to the user’s hand, allowing them to feel virtual objects and producing true-to-life touch sensations as the user manipulates on-screen 3D objects.
It was the technology chosen for Botox license holders Allergan, who required a training simulator for doctors to practice injecting the relaxant for treating muscle spasm. And it is for training where tactile feedback can be highly useful.
Inition recommended the Geomagic Touch to Dr. Pan, Research Fellow in Computer Animation, National Centre for Computer Animation at Bournemouth University.
Dr Pan wanted to develop a virtual reality based surgery simulator to train surgeons in laparascopy, which could deliver life-like tissue reaction.
Dr. Pan said: “Advances in minimally invasive surgery techniques have revolutionised surgery and is associated with less trauma, postoperative pain and complications. Bowel cancer is the third most common in the UK and surgery is increasingly moving towards a laparoscopic approach, and yet at present there is a lack of surgeons trained to perform such demanding surgery.”
Dr Pan looked for a way to train surgeons without any risk to a patient so he developed a simulator composed of a computer, a display screen and two Geomagic Touch devices, one functioning as the grasping tool and the other as the harmonic scalpel.
He continued: “Our system has been tested by colorectal surgeons who believe that the simulated tactile and visual feedbacks are realistic. It could replace the traditional training process and effectively transfer surgical skills to novices.”
It was a great case study as to how medical simulators with vision and haptic feedback techniques offer a cost-effective, safe and efficient alternative to the traditional medical training across many specialties.
Dr Stephen Laycock, Senior Lecturer School of Computing Sciences at the University of East Anglia, purchased a Geomagic Touch to enable researchers and students to use their Haptimol software applications related to interacting with proteins and molecular docking.
By using the software, named HaptiMol ISAS, one can explore the accessible surface of biomolecules using a three-dimensional input device to gain insights into the shape and water accessibility of the biomolecular surface that cannot be so easily attained using conventional molecular graphics software.
Users are able to apply forces to individual atoms using the Geomagic Touch and feel the response whilst seeing the deformation on the screen.
Another research project at the same university is investigating how ‘haptic assistance’ can be used by motion impaired computer users.
According to Professor Hwang et al, symptoms such as tremor, spasm, muscle weakness, partial paralysis, or poor coordination can make operating a mouse very difficult and that ‘haptic assistance’ offers potential assistance.
He tried the force feedback to aid the operator in human-computer interaction utilising the 3 DOF capabilities of the Geomagic Touch to produce assistance and found ‘haptic cones’ to be the most effective technique for decreasing the number of missed clicks.
By overlaying the window transparency on top of the OpenGL window, it has been possible to provide suitable visual cues to accompany the haptic effects.
Haptic technology is also a natural training tool in the field of dentistry training.
The motivation was the problem with training new dentists as students when jumping straight from mannequins to humans. Real teeth are increasingly hard to get hold of and plastic teeth are expensive and don’t realistically recreate the different layers.
The results showed that both students who used the traditional methods and haptic workstations performed equally, demonstrating the huge potential of systems which can offer students unlimited repetitive practice in varied scenarios.
Dr. Marco Davare, at the UCL Institute of Neurology, University College London, is using the Geomagic Phantom Premium as part of his research into how the human brain interprets information from vision and haptics.
Dr. Davare explains his set-up: “The visual scene is projected on a table by using a 3D screen and mirror. I also use two phantom robots for the haptics. One of them is connected to the thumb and the other to the index finger. Together they provide a vivid 3D simulation of the object shown by the 3D screen. You can grasp and manipulate different objects (size, weight, texture) while you get an accurate online visual and haptic feedback. While subjects grasp and lift objects, I use a non-invasive brain stimulation technique (transcranial magnetic stimulation) to unveil how the brain integrates vision and touch and combines these two senses together for controlling our hands.”
His research has led to some very interesting findings, due to be published soon, but by understanding how the human brain integrates sensory inputs coming from our eyes and our hands, there is the potential to develop better robotic hands for neuroprosthetics and also improve rehabilitation of patients with hand motor deficits.
Looking to the future, haptics technology clearly has great potential to offer university researchers, as well as consumers, to enhance many aspects of people’s lives.
Companies like Tactus are developing screens with textures which use a small layer of liquid or gas into it’s screens can gives a 3D feel to their smart devices, such as an instant keyboard.
Immersion have created a surface where an ancentric motor powers a screen. Depending on the size and speed of the motor, it can replicate different textures and surfaces such as wood, wool or metal. Multiple motors behind the screen create a vibrational pattern which is recorded by the real motions.
Moving forward, it is thought that haptics will be integrated with other technology to make teleoperation a viable option.
At the University of Texas at Dallas, researchers are working on bringing new technologies together, like haptics, body sensors, and real time data transmission protocols. They envision, for example, a rehabilitation system that can help therapists remotely work with patients on exercise techniques, including being able to feel the motion and strength of their movements while providing real time feedback.
Inition is looking forward to seeing what innovations and research findings our University clients are exploring with haptic technology.
For independent advice about haptic technology, contact Robert Jeffries by calling +44 (0)20 7377 2949.