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Glove with vibrating fingertip enhances user's sense of touch

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August 4, 2011

Georgia Tech applied physiology associate professor Minoru Shinohara conducts a single-poi...

Georgia Tech applied physiology associate professor Minoru Shinohara conducts a single-point touch test on mechanical engineering assistant professor Jun Ueda

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Studies have shown that with the right amount of white noise in the background, peoples' sight, hearing, balance control and sense of touch improve. Utilizing stochastic resonance, which is the principle at work in white noise, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have discovered that the sense of touch can also be improved by applying vibrations to a person's finger. They have been testing a glove that incorporates a prototype fingertip-buzzing device, that could ultimately lead to products worn by people with nerve damage, or whose jobs require exceptional manual dexterity.

The device contains an actuator, that is attached to the side of the fingertip - the bottom of the finger is exposed, so its skin can come into contact with surfaces. That actuator generates high-frequency vibrations, the intensity of which can be varied. A group of ten volunteers had the device attached to their non-dominant index fingertip, and told the researchers at what level of intensity they could actually begin to feel the vibrations - that point was called their "vibration amplitude threshold."

In subsequent tests, the volunteers had to perform a variety of tasks, with the actuator vibrating at anywhere from 0 to 150 percent of each individual's threshold.

One test required them to distinguish between one and two points pressing on their fingertip. In that case, it was found that vibrations between 75 and 100 percent of their threshold produced the best performance. In another test, where they had to state whether or not they could feel different weights of filaments touching their fingertip, they could feel lighter filaments as the vibrations approached their threshold.

A fourth test involved them feeling one piece of sandpaper, then trying to determine which of nine other pieces had the same grit. At vibration levels of 50 and 100 percent of their threshold, a 15 percent improvement in performance was noted. The fourth test required them to hold an object as lightly as possible, without dropping it. The subjects did best at levels of 50, 100 and 125 percent of threshold.

Georgia Tech researchers have developed a glove with a vibrating fingertip that improves t...

The Georgia Tech researchers are now working on fine-tuning the optimal amplitude and frequency of the vibrations, and looking into the possibility of applying actuators to both sides of the fingertip, or to the fingernail. They are also trying to determine the possible long-term effects of using the device.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
2 Comments

I'm skeptical. When we feel things, we create our own white noise. I have in front of me a wooden ruler that has the marks pressed into the wood and inked. If I press my finger against the markings, I can barely feel them. However, if I gently slide my finger along the ruler, they are easy to feel. Anyway, that's how we generally feel things. The sliding motion creates the white noise.

What I find more interesting is how people estimate the weight of something. If you place something on a scale, the scale generally needs to be still. However, hand an object to someone and ask them how much it weighs and they will move their hand up and down. Apparently, it's the change in force during this operation rather than the amount of force that is important.

Brillig
5th August, 2011 @ 10:12 am PDT

Interesting as always but; the same concept was used before the turn of the 1900's. Early studies were made using sound vibrations as a means of attenuating the senses in those who were deaf. In the early 1980's was a national technology search sponsored by Radio Shack & John's Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. At the awards ceremony on the first floor of the World Trade Center in NYC, two of the awarded technologies were to aid the handicapped by one; allowing a deaf person to hear their environment through other areas of the body, and secondly, to allow a deaf person to learn to speak normally without ever hearing a sound..... both using the reinvented/ rediscovered concepts in this article.... Yawn!

Thoughtfully or Thoughtless?
6th August, 2011 @ 08:25 am PDT
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