|The Internet's ghost
By Raja M
MUMBAI - The
sense of touch can now be transmitted through the
Internet. In August, Thenkurussi Kesavadas and his
fellow Indian colleague Dhananjay Joshi announced the
latest breakthrough in haptics, the science of
simulating touch in a development that is expected to
impact telemedicine, communications and the
entertainment industry. This projected $1 billion
business in haptics gadgets could let us experience what
another person feels continents away. The implications
are profound, including obviously getting the Internet's
thriving pornography merchants excited.
sensations could be recorded for future playback, just
as music and movies are preserved. Kesavadas, associate
professor at the American University of Buffalo, told
Asia Times Online, "Our development, termed Sympathetic
Haptics, allows capturing and transmitting of accurate
force sensations felt by one subject to another person
while performing a wide range of tasks, from simple
touching to playing musical instruments." Their
technology, costing upwards of US$250,000 to develop,
tested with an 80 percent success rate.
Kesavadas's data glove, physicians could examine the
organs of patients sitting continents apart - or a Tiger
Woods coaching class over the Internet could include
being able to feel his grip on the golf club.
"You could watch Tiger Woods play golf all day
long and not be able to make the kind of shots he
makes," Kesavadas explains. "But if you were able to
feel the exact pressure he puts on the club when he
putts, you could learn to be a better putter."
Kesavadas says that the new development means we
could actually feel what another person is feeling, and
not merely feel what the other person is doing as
earlier haptics technologies allowed. "The subtle but
significant difference is in being able to experience
the actual sensation of someone else writing, instead of
feeling our hand being dragged around in forced writing
movement," he says.
"You can't teach something
to somebody by forcing their movements," Kesavadas said,
ranking the sense of touch as a vital input in learning.
"With our technology you can do and feel, which leads to
learning. That's a crucial difference."
difference could plug a critical gap in fields like
telemedicine. Earlier haptics-based programs struggled
because physicians could not feel the pulse of faraway
patients. Kesavadas says his innovation allows doctors
to diagnose through the Internet, to be able to feel and
check a patient's organs for injury or disease. "Cyber
visits to your family doctor are now a real
possibility," Kesavadas said. "In addition, this
technology could bring experienced medical hands to
large rural areas of countries like India."
Kesavadas and his Mumbai-born assistant Joshi
built on a revolutionary technology that made news three
years ago - through some monkey business. In December
2000, monkeys in North Carolina operated a robotic arm
in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT)
Touch Lab 600 miles away. The monkey's brain signals did
the action. Ninety-six tiny electrodes had been
implanted in the cortex area of the monkeys' brains,
including the motor cortex that regulates movement.
Neuron signals recording every movement were
Two years later, on November
1, 2002, humans caught up with the monkeys. Scientists
in London and at Massachusetts "felt" each other moving
a cube in 3D space in the Internet, from their
respective offices across the Atlantic.
haptic feedback happened through PHANToM, a small
robotic arm that scientists developed at MIT. PHANToM
pushes high frequency impulses from one person to
another through the Internet. The person at either end
feels the effect of the other's touch. When a person
using the PHANToM arm moved a cube in a 3D room created
on the Internet, the other person felt the pressure
exerted on the cube. They could lift the virtual object
together and feel its texture. One science writer
witnessing the experiment was so startled at the
realistic feel of the transatlantic touch that he leapt
back in shock.
The director of MIT's Touch Lab,
Mandayam Srinivasan, who headed the haptics research,
was unsure of the full implications of such technology.
Srinivasan pointed out neither did Graham Bell
anticipate all the applications for the telephone when
he invented it 126 years ago. Kesavadas's innovation
uses the PHANToM arm for force-feedback replay.
Kesavadas, Joshi and Srinivasan are among Asian
scientists such as Hiroo Iwata and Hiroaki Yano of the
University of Tsukuba, Japan, in the forefront of
haptics research. Japan, with Sony Corporation, seven
universities and two governmental organizations, has
been involved in haptics research since the 1980s.
India, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are other Asian
countries with continuing haptics programs.
Sony in entertainment, the communication industry has
begun investing in haptics. In June this year, the
Finland-based MyOrigo launched "Mydevice", calling it
"the first motion-controlled smartphone". According to
MyOrigo, Mydevice lets consumers use the Internet in a
"completely intuitive way". The Mydevice screen adjusts
according to the user's hand movements. We could flick
open online documents with the same hand movement as
turning a book page. Or we can tip the screen like a
mirror and see corners of documents.
claims its device was a big hit with network operators
and handset manufacturers. With its Spanish associate
Telefonia, MyOrgio announced major plans for European
markets in the near future. The device, powered with the
"intent" multimedia software platform from the Tao
Group, is expected to hit Britain this autumn.
"Similar hand-held tactile and haptics devices
like MyOrgio have been tested in lab environment for
some time now [such as tactile feedback PDAs]," says
Kesavadas. "I would characterize Logitech and Microsoft
[force feedback joystick] in the same category because
of their success with low-cost, mass-produced haptics
One hurdle, Kesavadas admits, is the
cost factor. A force feedback device could need $16,000
to $45,000 to change ownership. "But when the cost comes
down," Kesavadas expects, "this technology will become
more prevalent in training and industrial environments.
Asian businesses, which are very progressive in adopting
new technology, will be eager to make good commercial
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