Understanding Human Touch

We investigate skin deformations under various conditions and explain the resultant perceptual experiences due to them. We also explore methodologies that induce "illusory" sensations through artificial stimuli, conflicting with the expected physical stimuli. 


Related Publications

arxiv, 2024

[preprint]

Tactile Weight Rendering: A Review for Researchers and Developers

Haptic rendering of weight plays an essential role in naturalistic object interaction in virtual environments. While kinesthetic devices have traditionally been used for this aim by applying forces on the limbs, tactile interfaces acting on the skin have recently offered potential solutions to enhance or substitute kinesthetic ones. Here, we aim to provide an in-depth overview and comparison of existing tactile weight rendering approaches. We categorized these approaches based on their type of stimulation into asymmetric vibration and skin stretch, further divided according to the working mechanism of the devices. Then, we compared these approaches using various criteria, including physical, mechanical, and perceptual characteristics of the reported devices and their potential applications. We found that asymmetric vibration devices have the smallest form factor, while skin stretch devices relying on the motion of flat surfaces, belts, or tactors present numerous mechanical and perceptual advantages for scenarios requiring more accurate weight rendering. Finally, we discussed the selection of the proposed categorization of devices and their application scopes, together with the limitations and opportunities for future research. We hope this study guides the development and use of tactile interfaces to achieve a more naturalistic object interaction and manipulation in virtual environments.

arxiv, 2023 

[preprint]

Relocating thermal stimuli to the proximal phalanx may not affect vibrotactile sensitivity on the fingertip

Wearable devices that relocate tactile feedback from fingertips can enable users to interact with their physical world augmented by virtual effects. While studies have shown that relocating same-modality tactile stimuli can influence the one perceived at the fingertip, the interaction of cross-modal tactile stimuli remains unclear. Here, we investigate how thermal cues applied on the index finger's proximal phalanx affect vibrotactile sensitivity at the fingertip of the same finger when employed at varying contact pressures. We designed a novel wearable device that can deliver thermal stimuli at adjustable contact pressures on the proximal phalanx. Utilizing this device, we measured the detection thresholds of fifteen participants for 250 Hz sinusoidal vibration applied on the fingertip while concurrently applying constant cold and warm stimuli at high and low contact pressures to the proximal phalanx. Our results revealed no significant differences in detection thresholds across conditions. These preliminary findings suggest that applying constant thermal stimuli to other skin locations does not affect fingertip vibrotactile sensitivity, possibly due to perceptual adaptation. However, the influence of dynamic multisensory tactile stimuli remains an open question for future research.

IEEE Transactions on Haptics, 2023

[paper] [code] [data]

Focused vibrotactile stimuli from a wearable sparse array of actuators

Wearable vibrotactile actuators are non-intrusive and inexpensive means to provide haptic feedback directly to the user's skin. Complex spatiotemporal stimuli can be achieved by combining multiple of these actuators, using the funneling illusion. This illusion can funnel the sensation to a particular position between the actuators, thereby creating virtual actuators. However, using the funneling illusion to create virtual actuation points is not robust and leads to sensations that are difficult to locate. We postulate that poor localization can be improved by considering the dispersion and attenuation of the wave propagation on the skin. We used the inverse filter technique to compute the delays and amplification of each frequency to correct the distortion and create sharp sensations that are easier to detect. We developed a wearable device stimulating the volar surface of the forearm composed of four independently controlled actuators. A psychophysical study involving twenty participants showed that the focused sensation improves confidence in the localization by 20% compared to the non-corrected funneling illusion. We anticipate our results to improve the control of wearable vibrotactile devices used for emotional touch or tactile communication. 

IEEE Transactions on Haptics, 2022

[paper] [code] [data]

Learning to Feel Textures: Predicting Perceptual Similarities from Unconstrained Finger-Surface Interactions

Whenever we touch a surface with our fingers, we perceive distinct tactile properties that are based on the underlying dynamics of the interaction. However, little is known about how the brain aggregates the sensory information from these dynamics to form abstract representations of textures. Earlier studies in surface perception all used general surface descriptors measured in controlled conditions instead of considering the unique dynamics of specific interactions, reducing the comprehensiveness and interpretability of the results. Here, we present an interpretable modeling method that predicts the perceptual similarity of surfaces by comparing probability distributions of features calculated from short time windows of specific physical signals (finger motion, contact force, fingernail acceleration) elicited during unconstrained finger-surface interactions. The results show that our method can predict the similarity judgments of individual participants with a maximum Spearman's correlation of 0.7. Furthermore, we found evidence that different participants weight interaction features differently when judging surface similarity.  

Contact Evolution of Dry and Hydrated Fingertips at Initial Touch 

Pressing the fingertips into surfaces causes skin deformations that enable humans to grip objects and sense their physical properties. This process involves intricate finger geometry, non-uniform tissue properties, and moisture, complicating the underlying contact mechanics.  Here, we explore the initial contact evolution of dry and hydrated fingers to isolate the roles of governing physical factors. Two participants gradually pressed an index finger on a glass surface under three moisture conditions:  dry, water-hydrated, and glycerin-hydrated.  Gross and real contact areas were optically measured over time, revealing that glycerin hydration produced strikingly higher real contact area, while gross contact area was similar for all conditions. To elucidate the causes for this phenomenon, we investigated the combined effects of tissue elasticity, skin-surface friction, and fingerprint ridges on contact area using simulation.  Our analyses show the dominant influence of elastic modulus over friction and an unusual contact phenomenon, which we call friction-induced hinging.

Certain ungrounded asymmetric vibrations create a unidirectional force that makes the user feel as though their fingers are being pulled in a particular direction. However, although researchers have discovered this haptic feedback technique and showcased its success in a variety of applications, there is still little understanding of how different attributes of the asymmetric vibration signal affect the perceived pulling sensation. This ongoing work aims to use dynamic modeling and measurement to bridge this gap between the design of the control signals and human perception. 

Physical Variables Underlying Tactile Stickiness During Fingerpad Detachment

One may notice a relatively wide range of tactile sensations even when touching the same hard, flat surface in similar ways. Little is known about the reasons for this variability, so here we investigated how the perceptual intensity of light stickiness relates to the physical interaction between the skin and the surface. Our results show that stickiness perception mainly depends on the pre-detachment pressing duration, the time taken for the finger to detach, and the impulse in the normal direction after the normal force changes sign; finger-surface adhesion seems to build with pressing time, causing a larger normal impulse during detachment and thus a more intense stickiness sensation.