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Haptic Arm Wrestling hits the net

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December 13, 2004

Wendy J. Brez tests out the machine at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY.

Wendy J. Brez tests out the machine at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY.

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December 14, 2004 An internet facilitated "haptic" arm-wrestling machine devised to teach children "hands-on" applications of networking in the digital age is the hit of American museums and may spawn a new sports craze. The Haptic Arm Wrestling machine, currently on display at 6 science museums, including the New York Hall of Science in Queens, the Tech Museum in San Jose, and the Imaginarium in Alaska, allows contestants to arm wrestle remote human opponents over the internet while watching live video and audio feeds.

Haptics is the science of touch and "tele-haptics" is the new combination of virtual touch technology with networking that allows people to feel locally sensations applied at a distance. Haptics has been employed by NASA to work on the International Space Station, allowing astronauts to control robots outside the station to do repairs, and during the height of the dot com years tele-dildonics or "virtual sex' was touted as the next emergent haptic application. Haptic wrestling, however, has emerged as a favourite sport on the museum circuit for kids and adults alike. A Haptic "Hand" glove is also currently under construction by US based Cyberforce industries for widespread networking applications.

The N.Y. Hall of Science's came up with the concept of an Internet arm wrestling demonstration to "hit kids over the head" with a practical application to allow them to understand the new possibilities of networking in the digital age. Built by Lynch Exhibits, the Haptic Arm Wrestling machine is actually a simple form of robotics that uses a standard Dell Pentium 4 system running Windows XP.

On the outside of each Haptic Wrestling station is a cushioned seat, a camera, speaker, microphone, and display that connects you to your opponent - who may be thousands of miles away or at the machine behind you. The "arm" is made out of aluminium and connects to a metal shaft that disappears inside the Haptic Wrestling station itself. A special strain gauge connects each shaft and ensures that a commensurate level of force is supplied - so if an adult is wrestling a child the force will be measured and controlled to avoid injury. The shafts warp slightly as torque is applied to the aluminium wrestling arm and generates a tiny electrical charge that is then transmitted over the internet to the competing Haptic Wrestling Arm. From there the charge travels through an actuator motor and is translated into force that is felt by the wrestler, and back again.

It has been so popular that, according to boingboing.net, a "Haptic Arm Wrestling League" has been launched that shows the locations with the top winning percentages. Participants at the Tech Museum can also wear and keep a RFID bracelet activation that allows them to enter their ID into the website, providing screenshots of them and their opponent while they were playing.

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