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LoD Viewpoints June 2007

Revolutionary Consumer-Level Haptic Interface Device

Accurate provision of touch and force sensations (haptics) can give users a more realistic representation of virtual environments than they now experience and enable more complex applications, such as specialized surgical training or accurate representation of activities in 3-D environments, in ways that would otherwise be impossible.
Because of their inherent complexity and high cost,   development of haptic interfaces has generally lagged behind work on visual and sound interfaces, but may now become more common given the reduction in price and high   volume of controllers for computer games and could--with the proper software--make operating in virtual environments faster and more intuitive.


Novint Technologies, Inc. (Albuquerque, New Mexico, www.novint.com), recently demonstrated a novel interface device for personal computers that may open new opportunities for haptics in computer games, virtual environments, and other software applications. Novint's Falcon is a touch-and-force controller that enables users to feel weight, shape, texture, dynamics, and force effects when operating software that supports the interface. Falcon is revolutionary because the expected retail price of about $240 is well below that of commercially available haptic interfaces built for professional and industrial applications.

Users handle Falcon's controller by holding onto an interchangeable grip they can move up and down, left to right, and forward and backward—somewhat like a computer mouse that can move in three dimensions. Novint's grip can have different shapes for different purposes (for example, to imitate a table-tennis paddle grip or a ball). The grip physically connects to sensors that track the handle's motion and correlate the motion with a moving cursor and images on a computer screen. When the 3-D cursor touches a virtual object on the computer screen, the computer provides force feedback to the user, by activating three motors in the controller, which move the grip in ways that match the action and characteristics of the objects on the computer screen. According to claims on Novint's Web site, the computer can update the position of the device and provide realistic force feedback to the user, up to 1000 times a second (see home.novint.com/products/novint_falcon.php).

The functions of Novint's Falcon controller is only superficially similar to that of Nintendo's Wii controllers (see wii.nintendo.com/controller.jsp), which convey motion and position information for computer games but do not have force-feedback capabilities (Wii controllers offer feedback only by moving the image on the screen, which varies depending upon the location or motion of the controller). Nintendo's Wii controllers are somewhat like a 3-D mouse that one can use remotely, when facing a computer screen, but do not offer the tactile and force feedback of haptic controllers and are therefore limited to large-scale motions, like throwing a ball or hitting an opponent with a stick, but not to sense various (virtual) materials, like air or jello, or hitting a virtual wall, for example.

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Revolutionary Consumer-Level Haptic Interface Device