TEDxStanford speaker Allison Okamu experiments with a haptic-enhanced medical device (Photo: MedicineWorld.org)
We all know the sense of touch is important. So what do we do when it’s gone? When soldiers use mine-deactivating robots, when doctors operate surgical robots, their sense of touch is lost to these devices. How do you tie a suture tight, but not so tight that it breaks when you can’t feel the give and take of the thread? How do you know how much pressure to apply to a material when you cannot feel the material’s reaction?
You go by sight. But sight only gives you so much, says Stanford University researcher Allison Okamura. In her talk at TEDxStanford, Okamura explains how she and her team at the CHARM (Collaborative Haptics and Robotics in Medicine) Lab are working to create devices that can not just register touch from a user, but also can simulate touch in return.
"We try to come up with [clever] techniques to fool the user into feeling something that isn’t really there," she says in her talk. This becomes particularly useful when dealing with the medical world, where human-controlled robots are often used to make surgical procedures less invasive and more accurate. “They [surgical robots] are not autonomous robots,” Allison says. “It is important because of the dangerousness and complexity of these tasks that there be a human in the loop. But the human can do a better job if they get the sense of touch feedback.”
So, Allison and her team at CHARM stay hard at work developing devices that do just that. Watch her talk below to learn more about CHARM’s work and see some of these robots in action: