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Touching Reality - Beginnings

This project started as a curiosity about the ways we interact with the virtual world, be it through gaming, virtual reality, or even our smartphones. I was fascinated by the idea of feeling the weight of an object or running my fingers through grass in VR games without having to rely on bulky, expensive and complicated peripherals.

This curiosity led me to explore the concept of virtual texture perception, which then changed my future aspirations, directing me towards the manipulation of the human body and the senses. I designed an initial prototype, tested it on willing participants, and documented my findings in a paper for my undergraduate dissertation.

During my studies, I encountered many challenges and obstacles, but I persevered, and my final year project demonstrated that virtual texture creation was a viable option. After graduating with a BEng in Electronic and Computer Engineering, I switched to Biomedical Engineering for my Masters degree, where I'm currently researching the effect of electrical nerve stimulation on the fingertip.

The concept I'm investigating is called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), which involves sending electrical impulses through the skin to reach the nerves. TENS has numerous medical applications, but there's little research on its potential for entertainment or recreational purposes. I aim to demonstrate how TENS can be used to simulate sensations in consumer electronics, like smartphones and VR devices.

In my final year project, I developed an electrode array and control circuit that fits the fingertip. I tested my design on participants and analyzed the results to determine if there's any correlation between the stimuli applied (electricity) and the stimuli perceived (texture). The goal was to classify the different stimuli that can be perceived and figure out how to recreate them. The results were positive and good motivation for a deeper dive into what this technology could have to offer.

TENS offers numerous advantages over traditional haptic feedback technologies, including cost savings, the ability to simulate sensations that are difficult to recreate, and improved immersion into the digital world. It has the potential to revolutionize virtual training, enabling similar experiences at a lower cost.

For my research project, I've scoured through all the studies and research that could be of help in reaching my goals. Since wrapping up my dissertation, there's been a ton of new findings on using electrical stimulation for haptic feedback and the nervous system's response to touch. Armed with this newfound knowledge, I've revised my original control device to allow for some dynamic electrode movement. My goal is to bring real touch to the virtual world and have people be able to recognize it (though officially its for use with remote surgery robots)!

I'll be posting updates from this project and others on this page to document my research and development.


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