Computer scientists are developing machines that enable users to feel digital content. "The world is going digital, but people are analog," says Immersion Corp.'s Gayle Schaeffer. "In the digital world, touch is so much more personal and private and non-intrusive." Touch-sensitive screens are becoming increasingly common, and are being used in a wide variety of devices, notes Consumer Electronics Association's Steve Koenig. However, a major problem is that touching a computer screen still feels like touching a computer screen, no matter what content is being displayed. The goal is to create touch screens that actually feel like the user is manipulating the content on the screen and working with three-dimensional objects.
Allison Okamura, director of the Haptics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, is developing an experimental surgical robot that steadies a surgeon's hands through haptic feedback. "If I shake, it holds me steady," Okamura says. "I can force it to make me move very slowly and deliberately, so it makes me extremely accurate."
Lab undergraduate student Kathryn Smith is working to capture, record, and convey the feeling of something through the skin's sense of touch, possibly using sophisticated vibrators to replicate texture, similar to how speakers reproduce audio.
Okamura notes that haptics technology tends to attract female students. She says that haptics "slops over into fields like physiology and psychology — it's grounded in the business of figuring out exactly how humans tick. Psychology, as a field, is loaded with women."
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