“How nice it would be if I could taste that food.” “What if I can touch things through the PC.”
I cannot be the only one who would have thought such things when using the computers as a youngster. The need to feel them is always there, although we know it’s all just virtual.
Carnegie Mellon University developed a controller that allows computer users to use their sense of touch along with the senses of sight and sound, in manipulating three-dimensional images and exploring virtual environments.
This device, created to use mostly for training, industrial purposes and for research, comes very close to the sensitivity of the human hand.
This haptic (devices that convey the sense of touch) device uses magnetic fields to replicate the response a hand has to textures and gravitational forces.
According to Ralph Hollis, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, “We believe this device provides the most realistic sense of touch of any haptic interface in the world today.”
This controller is said to have only one moving part and rests in a bowl like structure connected to the computer. Two controllers can be used simultaneously to pick up more objects (virtual) from the monitor.
Recently, a demonstration was held for the visitors of Hollis’ lab and they were invited to move an image of a pin across a plate of various textures, which caused the controller to bump along ripples, vibrate across fine striations and glide across smooth areas. On one computer, users were amazed that they could actually “feel” the contours of a virtual rabbit.
Hollis said that his researches created 10 such devices, out of which six were sent to other universities across the country and Canada. He said that a new company, Butterfly Haptics would begin marketing the device in June or July of this year.
The cost of this controller is said to be less than $50000, and may perhaps come with a bonus of a virtual surgeon, which allows people to operate on a virtual human organ and feel the tissue texture or even allow a designer to enjoy the feeling of fitting a part into a jet engine that is of course virtual.
Researchers say that this device can provide the most amazing and unbelievable experience, to the extent of users feeling the wind below the wings of military planes.
Hollis and his team did build a prototype of this device in 1997, but later they refined it and made it into a much more advanced system, as well as lowered the cost recently, with the grant from the National Science Foundation.
This technology of haptic devices is already being used in a different form, with cell phones that vibrate as well as in video games that already make users feel the physical sensations.
However, there is a huge difference in the technology created by Carnegie Mellon, as their system relies on a part that floats in a magnetic field rather than on mechanical links and cables.
We may not (yet) be able to taste food, but we can enjoy the feeling of being able touching it.