The new platform – called ForceBot – aims to be the world’s first system for full-body haptic and force feedback for users in virtual environments. Funded through the NSF’s National Robotics Initiative, the four-year project will combine HaptX’s microfluidic touch feedback technology with a robotic exoskeleton to simulate virtual objects with an unprecedented level of realism.
ForceBot users, says the company, will feel large-scale passive and active constraints on their movements that closely mimic real-world forces. ForceBot will enable users to feel the shape, weight, and texture of virtual objects, move naturally across varied virtual terrain, and intuitively manipulate objects from afar through a robotic avatar.
“Since the founding of HaptX, we have envisioned creating a system for realistic full-body haptics,” says Jake Rubin, founder and Chief Executive Officer of HaptX. “We’re thrilled to collaborate with NSF and Virginia Tech to build a platform that simulates realistic full-body interactions and helps more fully realize our company’s original vision.”
For the last eight years, says the company, it has focused on developing its unique, patented, microfluidic approach to simulating tactile and force feedback for VR and robotics. In order to deliver highly realistic sensory feedback, the ForceBot project will incorporate HaptX Gloves products and build on years of research into full-body haptic feedback from the HaptX engineering team.
Dr. Alexander Leonessa, Principal Investigator, Virginia Tech says, “ForceBot will advance knowledge at the convergence of virtual reality, robotic control, sensory feedback, ergonomics, and human factor fields. We’re excited to create a system that increases immersion for VR users in applications requiring intensive body motions like sports and industrial skills training, gaming, emergency response, and many others.”
The ForceBot platform aims to improve the accuracy of full-body human-computer interface design. By building on science’s understanding of human-robot interactions, say the researchers, they anticipate they can improve the safety and efficacy of robots, cobots, and exoskeletons. According to the NSF, the project reflects the organization’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
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