Tag Archives: haptic

Touchy feely breakthrough at the nano scale

This first posting back after a three week hiatus (I’m baaack) concerns a study in Sweden where scientists found that people can discern nano wrinkles with their fingertips. From the Sept. 16, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

In a ground-breaking study, Swedish scientists have shown that people can detect nano-scale wrinkles while running their fingers upon a seemingly smooth surface. The findings could lead such advances as touch screens for the visually impaired and other products, says one of the researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

The study marks the first time that scientists have quantified how people feel, in terms of a physical property. One of the authors, Mark Rutland, Professor of Surface Chemistry, says that the human finger can discriminate between surfaces patterned with ridges as small as 13 nanometres in amplitude and non-patterned surfaces.

The KTH Sept. 16, 2013 news release by David Callahan, which originated the news item, describes the new understanding of touch and its possible applications,

The study highlights the importance of surface friction and wrinkle wavelength, or wrinkle width – in the tactile perception of fine textures.

When a finger is drawn over a surface, vibrations occur in the finger. People feel these vibrations differently on different structures. The friction properties of the surface control how hard we press on the surface as we explore it. A high friction surface requires us to press less to achieve the optimum friction force.

“This is the breakthrough that allows us to design how things feel and are perceived,” he says. “It allows, for example, for a certain portion of a touch screen on a smartphone to be designed to feel differently by vibration.”

The research could inform the development of the sense of touch in robotics and virtual reality. A plastic touch screen surface could be made to feel like another material, such as fabric or wood, for example. The findings also enable differentiation in product packaging, or in the products themselves. A shampoo, for example, can be designed to change the feel of one’s hair.

The news release goes on to describe how the research was conducted,

With the collaboration of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) material science labs, Rutland and his colleagues produced 16 chemically-identical surfaces with wrinkle wavelengths (or wrinkle widths) ranging from 300 nanometres to 90 micrometres, and amplitudes (or wrinkle heights) of between seven nanometres and 4.5 micrometres, as well as two non-patterned surfaces. The participants were presented with random pairs of surfaces and asked to run their dominant index finger across each one in a designated direction, which was perpendicular to the groove, before rating the similarity of the two surfaces.

The smallest pattern that could be distinguished from the non-patterned surface had grooves with a wavelength of 760 nanometres and an amplitude of only 13 nanometres.

Rutland says that by bringing together professors and PhD students from two different disciplines – surface chemistry and psychology – the team succeeded in creating “a truly psycho-physical study.”

“The important thing is that touch was previously the unknown sense,” Rutland says. “To make the analogy with vision, it is as if we have just revealed how we perceive colour.

“Now we can start using this knowledge for tactile aesthetics in the same way that colours and intensity can be combined for visual aesthetics.”

Here’s a citation for and link to the researchers’ study,

Feeling Small: Exploring the Tactile Perception Limits by Lisa Skedung, Martin Arvidsson, Jun Young Chung, Christopher M. Stafford, Birgitta Berglund & Mark W. Rutland. Scientific Reports 3, Article number: 2617 doi: 10.1038/srep02617 Published 12 September 2013

This paper is open access.

The poetry of Canadian Copyright Law

Techdirt had an item, Intellectual Property Laws Rewrittten as Poetry. The poet, Yehuda Berlinger, has included Canada’s copyright law in the oeuvre. You can read the verse here. It’s surprisingly informative given how amusing and concise the verses are.

On a completely other note, there’s an article in Fast Company about a haptic exhibition in Japan that’s quite intriguing in light of the Nokia Morph. Part of an exhibit last year, the Morph concept is a flexible, foldable, bendable (you get the idea) phone. As far as I know, they (University of Cambridge and Nokia) have yet to produce a prototype (last year they had an animation which demonstrated the concept). Getting back to Japan, one of the exhibits was a design for speakers where you control the volume by changing their shapes. Haptic Speakers: Reach Out and Touch Some Sound is the article. Do go and read it. I found it very helpful to see the pictures (which seems ironic given that the article is about the sense of touch).

I’ve been curious about research concerning disabled folks and using their ‘thought waves’ to control equipment or machinery. I’ve found a description of some of the research in Richard Jones’s blog but it’s in the context of a discussion of Ray Kurzweil and some of Kurzweil’s ideas regarding the ‘singularity’. Anyway, Jones offers a good description of some of the ‘thought wave’ research. As for Kurzweil, one of these days I will try and read some of the material he’s written. The little I have seen suggests that he has absolutely no concept of human nature, in much the same way that economists don’t.