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Input Devices

Levitating Haptics Joystick Gives Good Feedback 70

SubComdrTaco writes "A controller developed at Carnegie Mellon University allows computer users to manipulate three-dimensional images and explore virtual environments not only through sight and sound, but by using their sense of touch. It simulates a hand's responses to touch because it relies on a part that floats in a magnetic field rather than on mechanical linkages and cables, according to Ralph L. Hollis, a Carnegie Mellon professor who developed the controller. The controller — like a joystick topped with a block that can be grasped — has just one moving part and rests in a bowl-like structure connected to a computer. Two of the controllers can be used simultaneously to pick up and move virtual objects on a monitor. In a demonstration Tuesday, visitors to Hollis' lab were invited to move an image of a pin across a plate of various textures, causing the controller to bump along ripples, vibrate across fine striations and glide across smooth areas. On one computer, users could "feel" the contours of a virtual rabbit. Hollis said his researchers had built 10 of the devices, six of which were to be sent to other universities across the country and in Canada, and that a new company, Butterfly Haptics, would begin marketing the device in June or July. The controller, which Hollis said will cost "much less" than $50,000, could enable a would-be surgeon to operate on a virtual human organ and sense the texture of tissue or give a designer the feeling of fitting a part into a virtual jet engine, or might also be used to convey the feeling of wind under the wings of unmanned military planes."
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Levitating Haptics Joystick Gives Good Feedback

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  • Re:virtual surgery (Score:5, Informative)

    by Telvin_3d ( 855514 ) on Wednesday March 05, 2008 @11:46AM (#22650154)
    Well, not with the first generation at least. The claim is that the current model is sensitive to motions as small as two microns in all six axis of movement and can provide real time feedback. If someone was going to create a remote surgery setup, which might prove useful in some emergencies and specific situations, I can think of a lot worse interface methods to build it around.

    Now, no you would never want to use something like this in preference to a live surgeon. However, for remote places like the arctic/antarctic stations and other situations where flying a patient out or a surgeon in for some specific emergency just isn't going to happen, well, it's better than nothing.
  • by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Wednesday March 05, 2008 @11:51AM (#22650228)
    My visualisation lecturer brought one of these into the lecture last week: []

    I had a go, it was pretty cool. He'd just installed Vista on his laptop and the software wouldn't run at full speed any more (surprise!) so he could only demonstrate touching a sphere of material, but it was good. There was a sphere of molasses, which really did feel gooey, and one of ice, which was slippery. There were others, but I didn't try them.
  • by Hoplite3 ( 671379 ) on Wednesday March 05, 2008 @11:53AM (#22650260)
    I don't know about surgery, but magnetic feedback is far easier to tune than spring feedback. It'd make a great videogame controller, though it could fall short for the same reason spring-based feedback isn't in current controllers: patents.

    Some medical device company owns a force-feedback patent and sued or threatened all of the original FF joystick makers in the 90's. The only feedback we have now is vibration, which may be exciting for 51% of the population, but seems kinda lame to me. Oh, and isn't there a patent covering it as well? Lame.
  • More Haptics (Score:3, Informative)

    by imstanny ( 722685 ) on Wednesday March 05, 2008 @12:24PM (#22650754)
    Half Life 2 has Haptics controller for it (as well as other less popular games) Novint Falcon. I think it's sold at CompUSA, though they went out of busines...

    Also, Immersion technologies make Haptic controllers (BMW contol wheel, XBOX Steering Wheel, Vibration in the PS3 - which, Sony claimed couldn't fit into their controller but it was a patent problem - Immersion sued Sony & won... now the PS3 has vibration). They also make haptic stuff for surgery simulations. Carnegie Melon be jealous...

  • by Darundal ( 891860 ) on Wednesday March 05, 2008 @12:28PM (#22650820) Journal
    I used one at quakecon, and honestly, I hated it. I honestly don't understand how anyone can describe using this thing as feeling anything. It reacted to surfaces and objects in the demos like you would expect it to react, but it wasn't feeling. It was clunky and awkward, to say the least. It was more like taking a stick and moving it along something. Just figured I would share my experiance with the device.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday March 05, 2008 @12:38PM (#22650960) Homepage

    The linked video [] is from 1998.

    I've seen several gadgets like this at SIGGRAPH, although not this "maglev" version. There are better haptic input devices, which are more like robot arms in reverse.

  • Re:Cancer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cedric Tsui ( 890887 ) on Wednesday March 05, 2008 @01:17PM (#22651634)
    Cancer? What is it about magnetic fields you think can cause cancer?
    You know that every time you open your fridge, there's a changing magnetic field beneath your hand.

    In broad terms, the only forms of radiation that can cause cancer are ionizing radiation. That means that individual photons can break a bond between two atoms. The reason this can cause cancer is that you can break a bond within a DNA strand which could be repaired incorrectly by the cell in such a way that it looses control over itself.

    So starting from lowest energy and going up.
    Electric fields and magnetic fields (or RF waves) can't cause cancer.
    Infrared waves (heat) can't cause cancer
    Microwaves (cellphones) can't cause cancer
    Visible light can't cause cancer
    Ultra Violet rays are slightly ionizing, and can cause cancer
    x-rays and gamma rays can cause cancer

    There's an exception to this. If you made a substantial change in an electric or magnetic field in under 10^-16 seconds, then you would emit some UV rays. This isn't something we're capable of doing without some sort of cathode ray tube. (not used in this device)
  • by jabberingWookie ( 836844 ) on Wednesday March 05, 2008 @03:44PM (#22653976)
    I work in the lab that produced this device and wanted to clarify a few things.

    First, although the device is called a 6 degree of freedom joystick, it is much, much more than that. Essentially, its a a set of coils inside a set of rare-earth magnets. The coils are attached to a bowl, called a flotor, which has a handle at its center. Coils in a magnetic field generate a Lorentz force when a current passes through them, levitating the bowl. You've now got a bowl, floating in a large air gap with no physical connection to anything except through some very fine wires at the base. The position of the bowl can be found using LED's on its outer surface which shine on some optics and sensors.

    Most haptic devices use mechanical linkages to give force feedback. This always involves friction and backlash. The more degrees of freedom you want, the more motors you need, the more linkages, the worse the friction. This device has essentially zero friction, no backlash and can be moved to resolutions on the order of microns. It can follow a commanded sinusoid fast enough to play music. It can produce really stiff surfaces and stops so fast that the bowl reverberates. Most users think they're hitting something real or we're generating collision sounds but the device is actually just stopping so fast.

    The linked video is indeed from 1998 and is of an early prototype. Better video is available even on YouTube [] and more about this project and others can be found at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute website [].

    I should also point out that this device is intended for research, especially research involving small, precise motions, making it ideal for virtual surgical applications and anywhere where you might need fine motor control. As a gaming input/output its definitely cool but you'd need to be pretty well off to afford one right now.

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