Science Gazette

Temperature variations may aid in the simulation of virtual forms via modern touchscreen technology

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High-fidelity touch has the ability to considerably broaden the scope of what we anticipate from computer devices, allowing for novel distant sensory experiences. The study on these developments, headed by a pair of academics from Texas A&M University’s J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering, might enable touchscreens imitate virtual forms.

Dr. Cynthia Hipwell investigates friction at the finger-device level, while Dr. Jonathan Felts investigates friction in the interaction between single skin cells and the touchscreen interface’s glass. The two are combining their separate areas of expertise to apply microscopic friction concepts to finger-device interaction mechanics.

Hipwell emphasized the relevance of the endeavor by comparing it to present technologies for transmitting immersive and accurate information through high-fidelity audio and video.

“We can see digitally recorded or remotely transmitted music and video on a screen in incredible clarity,” Hipwell, Oscar S. Wyatt, Jr. ’45 Chair II professor, said. “We don’t have that capacity with touch on a touchscreen yet. Imagine being able to feel the skin of a snake from another continent or the fabric of clothing you wish to purchase online.”

Another use of this technology that has lately gotten a lot of attention is the enhancement of immersive virtual worlds like the projected metaverse.

“The touch sensations that would be necessary to really immerse oneself in a totally digital environment require enormous breakthroughs in touch perception,” said Felts, associate professor and Steve Brauer, Jr. ’02 Faculty Fellow. “What we’ve done is effectively invented a whole new mechanism to regulate touch perception that didn’t exist before.”

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The team is attempting to demonstrate that it is feasible to simulate the distinct mechanical and thermal sensations associated with various surface textures and forms. Their latest paper in the journal Science Robotics reveals the possibility of interpreting these feelings on a touchscreen just via temperature fluctuation, rather than expressing them through ultrasonic vibrations or electroadhesion techniques.

“The degree of the friction increase we were able to accomplish truly astonished us,” Hipwell added. “Its magnitude is competitive with existing surface haptic devices, implying that friction modulation in surface-haptic device rendering has another alternative.”

Another intriguing advance, according to Hipwell, is that their research has demonstrated that it is feasible to localize friction to the outer layer of the skin and manage friction without making the gadget feel heated, at least at swipe rates.

Felts stated that as the study progresses, many of the remaining challenges concern how easily the method may be implemented into consumer products and marketed.

“Is it possible to reduce the size? Is it capable of responding swiftly enough? Is it capable of simulating a broad variety of surfaces? Is it affordable? We believe these are valid concerns, but we look forward to leveraging this phenomena to advance our fundamental knowledge of haptic feedback as well as exploring miniaturization and commercialization opportunities “He said.

The team is continuing its effort to solve the approach’s issues by delving further into the complexity of the finger-device interface and variances caused by environmental and skin-property variables. They also want to investigate design enhancements for miniaturization and touchscreen integration.

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