"The technology of touch: mini-motors enhance tactile world" on Philly.com

The technology of touch: mini-motors enhance tactile world

By: Tom Avril | Posted 12 April 2016

Wearing a high-tech prosthetic hand, Eric Young grabbed hold of a Saltine.

Crunch.

The hand's rubbery, motorized fingers closed too quickly, and that's the way the cracker crumbled.

Then engineer Kelsey Muller flipped a switch, activating pressure-sensitive electronics so that when Young tried it again, the fingers would slow down at just the right moment.

Presto! Cracker intact.

"What we're doing is replicating the natural reflex," Muller said.

Her demonstration was one of more than a dozen Sunday afternoon at a Philadelphia symposium on an emerging technology called haptics.

Broadly, the field involves the use of electronics and miniature motors to create or enhance the sensation of touch. Those "vibrate" modes on a smartphone or a video-game controller? This is a much, much fancier version of that.

Researchers from around the world are at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel through Monday for the four-day event, affiliated with the New York-based Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Among the symposium organizers are University of Pennsylvania associate professor Katherine J. Kuchenbecker.

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