and the Virtual Touch
Imagine sending your loved one an
intimate message with a secret touchpad
stroke or sitting at home and touching the
Mona Lisa painting. The world of virtual
touch is at the heart of haptics research
being undertaken by Hong Tan, a professor
of electrical and computer engineering.
Tan, who is on a research leave with
Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing, is
developing technologies that let users feel
a sensation on a piece of flat glass similar
to what they currently feel when striking
a movable key. Studies show that haptic
keyclick feedback is more effective than
other feedback mechanisms (for example,
a sound) at increasing typing speed and
decreasing error rate.
“We over-rely on our vision when we
interact with computers, yet people are
multisensory animals; we are used to
experiencing the world through sight,
sound, touch, smell and taste,” Tan says.
“By creating technologies that allow us
to feel, in addition to touch, a computer
screen, I hope that we can make human
computer interaction a bit faster, more
enjoyable, more natural and more graceful.”
| L. T.
In collaboration with the Indiana University
School of Medicine, Shi has discovered that
when a traumatic injury occurs to nerve
cells, the neurotoxin acrolein is produced
in the body, triggering a cascade of
biochemical events that appear to worsen
the injury’s severity. When laboratory rats
with high levels of acrolein were given the
hypertension drug hydralazine, however,
their acrolein levels, and, subsequently,
their pain, diminished.
Now, Shi has developed a patent-protected
mechanism of action that identifies and
lowers acrolein levels. “This could be
promising news for millions of spinal
cord injury victims who may suffer from
debilitating pain,” says Shi, who’s founded
the company Neuro Vigor LLC to conduct
clinical trials and commercialize the
innovation. | A.R.