Haptic technology has come a long way in recent years. And at long last it's finally reached its inevitable conclusion: boobs.
More specifically, Japanese researchers have developed a robot hand that uses haptic technology to simulate softness on individual fingertips. Other than acting as a stand-in lady friend for lonely scientists, the device has the potential to give medical students more hands-on practice (so to speak) with breast exams.
And even though haptic tech has done some pretty incredible things over the years, simulating softness has been one of the bigger challenges. Because our fingertips can detect so many nuanced sensations, the imitation has to be nearly perfect. In simulating something like elasticity, the device would merely need to pull your fingers in with electrical impulses. Not so here.
To simulate softness, the sheet of gel is stretched by two tiny rollers with a gap between them, so that a strip of gel is suspended in the air. Your finger rests on this strip. By using a motor and a set of gears to move the rollers, the tension on the strip of gel can be increased or decreased. Increasing the tension (pulling the strip tighter) makes it feel harder under your finger, while decreasing the tension (letting the strip get looser) makes it feel softer [see diagram below].
With a haptic device, the potential for replicable shapes is nearly endless. So whereas you'd need to have dozens of different silicon models with lumps in different places for students to practice breast exams, a single, haptic hand could do it all.
And this is just one of the more practical uses. Haptic technology holds loads of potential for general entertainment, and with the addition of softness -- well, you know where this is going. [IEEE Spectrum]