Integrated haptic interface : tactile and force feedback for improved realism in VR and telepresence applications
Virtual Reality is a powerful tool for training, simulation, and computer aided design. The sensation of being in a real environment, while interacting with VR simulation is usually referred as sense of presence or sense of immersion. In most of the current applications the focus has been in providing a good visual and sound feedback to the user. However, the lack of mechanoreception/touch and proprioception/force feedback, or in other words, the impossibility of really touching the virtual objects makes the interaction unreal and more difficult. The rapid advances in VR and the development of techniques such as virtual medicine, virtual training and virtual prototyping have highlighted the lack of an effective input/feedback interface in these technologies and this led to research activity in all aspects of input and feedback technology related to touch/force sensation and reflection. This work presents the development of a generic integrated haptic (touch/force) feedback interface for use in VR and telepresence applications. The interface presented here consists of a 7 DOF input control/force feedback exoskeleton and a multi-functional input control/touch feedback glove interface. The arm exoskeleton monitors the motions of the human arm and feed back force sensations using ultra light weight pneumatic Muscle Actuators (pMA) to obtain high power weight outputs in a light comfortable and inherently safe structure. The glove interface monitors the motions of the hand and feed back touch sensations such as contact pressure, surface texture and temperature. These hardware systems have been integrated together and have been interfaced with a virtual reality system to permit exploration and testing of interactions with virtual environments. It is believed that the use of the system in VR, particularly, in all design and rapid prototyping applications will provide enhanced performance and will augment the design-production process.