Sense of Touch

Computers may soon let people sense the texture of objects or feel how they fit together thanks to a haptic, or touch-based interface, developed at Carnegie Mellon University.

The device uses magnetic levitation and a single moving part called a flotor, much like a joystick, to let users perceive textures, feel hard contacts and notice even slight changes in position.

Electric current flowing through embedded wires in the flotor interact with powerful permanent magnets underneath, making the flotor levitate. A control handle attached to the flotor lets users move the handle like a computer mouse, but in three dimensions, with six degrees of freedom - up/down, side to side, back/forth, yaw, pitch and roll.

Optical sensors measure the flotor's position and orientation, and this information controls a virtual object's position and orientation on the computer display. As this virtual object encounters other virtual surfaces and objects, corresponding signals transmit to the flotor's electrical coils, resulting in touch-based feedback to users. - Carnegie Mellon University

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Karen Stewartson, Managing Editor Karen Stewartson  | 

Karen Stewartson served as the managing editor of Government Technology for many years. She also contributed to Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.