Mechanical engineering professor, Katherine Kuchenbecker outlines three ways in which we can use ‘haptics’, or touch technology.
There are two components to touch; tactile sensation and kinesthetics, or how the body moves around the world. Using a hand held motion sensor, Kuchenbecker was able to record motion, force and vibration as subjects moved through an ordinary world. These were then programmed into a computer program and accessed on a tablet so when the user dragged a stylus across the screen the environment was reproduced. This has useful implications in areas such as online shopping.
The second area in which haptics would be invaluable is in healthcare. Dentists rely on their ability to feel if a tooth is softer and decayed, physiotherapists need to assess movement of ligaments to ascertain the degree of tear, and the list goes on. Use of an accelerometer to record experienced clinicians’ judgement on such issues to teach students is achievable through haptics technology.
Finally, Kuchenbecker describes how haptic feedback sensors positioned on the body can be used to monitor and teach correct movement patterns. This is currently being developed for stroke victims but has implications in dance or sports training.
Touch is one of the most powerful sensations that exist. Kuchenbecker dreams that one day she will be able to reminisce over her holiday pictures using more than just sight.