New Computer Controller Designed To Replicate Human Touch

Dennis Faas's picture

With the current state of technology, a computer user can manipulate their system in any way imaginable (shy of sticking their hands through the monitor and physically touching the icons that appear on the screen). Now, a group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA have seemingly broken all of the boundaries and jumped hands-first into a whole new dimension.

The team has developed a controller allowing users to manipulate three-dimensional images and delve deeper into virtual areas. The control is currently the closest simulator of human touch ever created.

The device uses magnetic fields to replicate the exact response a hand might give when differentiating between textures and gravitational forces.

The controller resembles any standard joystick topped with a block that can be grasped by the individual. The controller has only one moving part, resting in a bowl-like structure connected to a computer. Since humans generally have two hands to work with, two of the controllers may be used simultaneously to lift and move virtual icons. (Source:

At a recent demonstration on the campus of Carnegie Mellon, visitors were invited to test the responsiveness of the controller to different textures by moving a virtual pin across several plates of various substances. The controller bumped and vibrated as each new texture was explored.

Sensory technology is not a new concept, as video game rumble shocks and tech-based automotive accessories can already give users a feel for the virtual world. The touch system developed at Carnegie Mellon is different from any other currently available on the market, because it relies on a magnetic field to function rather than on mechanical linkages and cables. (Source:

A total of 10 devices have already been produced, with 6 being reserved for further research at university campuses across North America. A new company, Butterfly Haptics, will begin manufacturing these controllers, with an expected release date set for June or July 2008.

Initial estimates have the controller selling for just under $50,000, though a number of company representatives have promised to eventually diminish the price soon after mass production is under way. (Source:

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