Penn Engineers Digitize the Sense of Touch
Tom Spendlove posted on December 31, 2015 |

Katherine Kuchenbecker has photographs from her travels and the visual memories are rewarding but she wants to also be able to capture the touch memories. In her TED Talk Haptography: Digitizing our sense of touch, Kuchenbecker discusses her work at the University of Pennsylvania's GRASP Lab and demonstrates some of her projects.

She first explains the difference between tactile touch (contact location, pressure, shear, slip, vibration and temperature) and kinesthetic touch (position, orientation, force). Our brains use these sensors to tell us about what we touch and stores the data to relate it back to previous experiences.

Kuchenbecker's first demonstration is a stylus device with a force sensor, motion tracker, and accelerometer incorporated inside to take data for a specific surface. That surface's data can then be used to make a user think that a smooth tablet surface is actually rough and bumpy. This process is called haptography, or haptic photography.

The next example is dental students learning to look for cavities. Teeth without cavities are hard and cavities can be soft when probed with a dental explorer. An accelerometer is fitted to the dental explorer to take touch data for a patient's tooth and the students can use the tool as a testing device before exploring an actual patient's mouth.

Gaming is the last demonstration, as a tool to teach people proper technique and placement when learning physical skills. Using a Kinect and arm bands outfitted with motors users can learn specific movements. The vibrotactile arm bands gently vibrate when the user moves outside of the specific path. The system was developed as a tool to rehabilitate stroke patients.

Kuchenbecker is an energetic speaker and very enthusiastic about her work. This talk is from late 2012 and her work has been moving forward in the last three years. Most of the projects use these technologies as the launching point. The most interesting project for me is VerroTouch, an instrument for robotic surgery.

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