01.06.13

Device gives shape to virtual objects

AUTHOR: Inavate

Japanese broadcaster NHK has developed a haptic feedback device that enables users to feel the edges and contours of virtual objects.
The tactile system involves a user placing their fingertip onto a five-pointed surface with each one of the points delivering feedback onto the fingertip. While NHK’s goal is to aid the visually impaired and to create a TV service where viewers can touch virtual objects, future applications for such technology include shopping, remote working and telemedicine

The device was demonstrated at the annual open day of NHK’s Science and Technology Laboratories. Using the face of a graphical character called Domo-kun, users could feel the contours on the edges of the face as well as the jagged teeth.

“This device communicates a 3D shape or 2D graph of an object shown on a TV, such as a work of art, as a sensation felt by the hand,” an NHK spokesman told Tokyo-based video news site DigInfo TV.
“The system detects spatial position data for the fingertip in 1/1000 of a second. The finger moves freely if there isn't anything present, but when it approaches something, it becomes unable to go into the object. By tracing with your finger like this, you can feel that there's a continuous rough surface there. Also, the jagged feeling of the tooth makes the sensation similar to that of touching an actual object.”

The sensation is described as something akin to detecting the texture of a surface when writing on it with a pen.

“Domo-kun's body is one object, while the tooth is another object,” the spokesman explained.
“The texture can be changed for each object. Here, the tooth alone has been made slightly hard. In that case, if we create a different object using CG, we can do this kind of thing.”
“This is slightly different from a texture that's actually felt by the skin.”
“We want to extend the range of movement of the fingers so that curved surfaces are also recognizable, while keeping the advantages of the current version.”