Haptics in Engineering Design

Haptics is the study of touch, and its application in engineering has risen in recent years due to emergence of many new technologies that can emulate and measure feel. Haptics offer a new medium through which a product can communicate with it’s user, as well as new and exciting tools with which to develop products and processes. From aeronautic control systems, to video-game controllers, to the phone in your pocket, haptics are infiltrating modern technology. Often used as a feedback mechanism, employing a force or vibrotactile response, haptics are a new and powerful method of communication between humans and objects.

This research project aims to identify and investigate the ways that haptics can be used to augment and enhance engineering design and manufacture.

Previous review work has identified two promising uses for haptics within engineering design.  Enhancing virtual prototypes by adding tangibility and natural interaction, and recording the haptic profiles of complex manual processes, to facilitate the training of both new human and robotic fabricators.

Planned Studies

To further investigate these two possibilities, two pilot studies are planned.

Is Seeing Believing?

Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools have allowed designers to create products in a purely digital environment, and with the advent of Virtual Reality (VR), these designs can now be interacted with in a ‘3D’ digital space. However, the lack of tangibility and physical interactiveness means that there is still a significant disconnect between the digital domain and the real domain.

This study aims to develop a method of physically interacting with virtual objects in a VR environment, and to investigate the required levels of physical fidelity required to give realistic haptics to a virtual prototype.

Recording complex manual free-form processes

Complex, manual, free-form processes, such as Carbon Fibre (CF) layup of bike frames, or the winding of small batch super-conducting electromagnets, are incredibly difficult to automate. This is due to the subtlely and nuanced techniques required from the human fabricators to successfully complete these processes. Within these techniques, the sense of touch and feel is paramount, and is notoriously difficult to describe to an unskilled person.

Consequently, this study aims to record the haptic profile of a representative process – folding a paper aeroplane. By proving that it is possible to record this simplified interaction, further research can be conducted to assess the feasibility of applying this methodology to more advanced processes. Beyond this, methods of using this data to enable training and error prediction can be investigated, to streamline the production of these complex products.


Chris Cox

Research Engineer

Ben Hicks

Professor, Director

James Gopsill

CFMS Fellow

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