Feeling Through Your Computer

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — When you use a computer you’re obviously able to see and hear the information on the screen. Now, you can touch it. A newly designed device lets computer users feel the texture and movement of what they are seeing in front of them.

Someday soon, a surgeon may perform computer-aided operations away from the operating room. A new device may give him the feedback he needs at his fingertips.

“What we use is a new form of magnetic levitation,” Ralph Hollis, haptics specialist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Hollis’ specialization, haptics, is the science and technology of touch.

Dr. Hollis has developed a way to interact with 3D objects on a computer. A user grasps a handle inside a sphere attached to a desktop computer. The handle is connected to something that looks like an upside-down umbrella, called a flotor.

“That umbrella carries electrical coils, electrical current. These are immersed in high magnetic fields, created by a series of permanent magnets,” Dr. Hollis explained.

The magnets allow the handle to float freely inside the sphere. It moves and rotates to control the position of the 3D object on the screen. When that object touches something in the virtual world, a user can feel it immediately.

Other haptic devices exist, but users must grab motorized arms to interact with the computer. With magnetic levitation, there’s an almost direct connection between the user’s hand and the software, giving immediate feedback. Just one more thing bringing the computer world into our world.

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.


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