Ahead of her much anticipated presentation at Smart Haptics 2019, we reached out to Dr. Mar Gonzalez-Franco, Senior Researcher at Microsoft, to hear her thoughts on human-computer interfaces, discuss potential affects on human interactions, and explore ways that haptic technology can be used to change people’s lives for the better.
Your presentation will explore the limits of our current VR controllers and present a subset of VR haptic prototypes. What are some of the key takeaways?
I am proposing we focus on simulating objects rather than simulating the human hand. The hand is too evolutionarily complex, whereas objects can be more simple, and we can decompose them into primitive properties such as compliance, texture, shape, size, etc.
This perspective on object simulation, together with some new understanding of human perception, is helping us increase the range of sensations and have very satisfying haptic experiences, even in passive devices, rigid haptic controllers, or ungrounded systems.
In recent years, we have seen human-computer interfaces grow and change. When it comes to immersive experiences in virtual and augmented reality, what can consumers expect to see more of in the future?
Now that we can visually render holograms and virtual realities, the grand frontier will be to be able to touch these objects. And that is why we are seeing a big push on haptics.
Just as AI has changed the ways in which we interact with our world – optimizing our search results, sorting digital content, streamlining our productivity – what potential is there for haptic technology to affect human interaction and perception?
We perceive and interact with the world through our body, and the potential of haptics is to be able to do the same with digital content.
What are some of the ways in which you think haptic technology can change people’s lives for the better?
What the mouse has been to the PC, the haptic controllers will be to spatial computing, if we think of VR as the successor of the PC for productivity and entertainment. This means haptic controllers will be huge. The difference is that we don’t know yet what the final form of the controllers will be. And that is why it is so fascinating to research in this field.
When thinking about the future of haptics, what developments are you most excited to see?
I love how the community has been exploring different form factors, different renderings and implementations. Also how the work from perceptual neuroscientists and engineers is coming together. I think it is time to transfer all of this to products, so people start filling the void of input-only controllers and empty hands.
What are some of the biggest challenges currently faced by the haptics industry?
When it comes to human scale forces, it is hard to build devices that will not break. And that not only applies to motors fighting forces of users – having moving parts is also very challenging. A kid could simply step on a moving part and break it. I like some work that has been solving motors by using breaks and the forces of the actual user to operate the haptic controllers. In my talk, I will present some of our attempts at solving these.