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Haptic simulation of virtual textiles

It is easy to choose colors and sizes of clothes on many websites, but it's impossible to touch the material. So, European scientists are using a virtual reality technology, haptic simulation, to reproduce the sense of touch when interacting with virtual textiles. The HAPTEX project will end in November 2007 and cost 1.66 million euros.

Periodically, researchers want to improve our lives of online shoppers. It is easy to choose colors and sizes of clothes on many websites, but it's impossible to touch the material. So, European scientists are using a virtual reality technology, haptic simulation, to reproduce the sense of touch when interacting with virtual textiles. In 'Getting a feel for the fabric -- virtually,' IST Results describes the HAPTEX project (HAPtic sensing of virtual TEXtiles) which will end in November 2007 and is funded by the European Union with 1.66 million euros. Read more...

Before going to some details, the coordination of the HAPTEX project is MIRALab, at the University of Geneva (Switzerland), headed by Professor Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann.

So what is the goal of this project?

The HAPTEX partners are working on multimodal perception of textiles in virtual environments. Their goal is to achieve, by project close in November 2007, a visual representation of virtual textiles with a haptic/tactile interface, which will allow users to 'feel' the virtual garment.

It's already difficult to promote haptic technologies in the industry, but the HAPTEX project wants to use two different technologies -- and for the mass market...

The project team’s final goal is to integrate two different haptic technologies: a device which can 'feel' the kinesthetic forces acting on the simulated virtual fabric, and tactile arrays on two fingertips to show the vibrotactile stimulations on the surface of the simulated fabric.
Currently, there is no comparable system either on the market or in the development stage. To integrate the visual and haptic/tactile interfaces, several significant advances in existing technology are necessary before the virtual experience can come close to simulating a real physical touch.

As the researchers say, there is no comparable system today. But will you buy a haptic device for your home? I doubt. Anyway, the HAPTEX team says it will provide a demonstrator with different configuration options. Here is one of these possible configurations (Credit: HAPTEX project).

A possible HAPTEX demonstrator

For a good introduction to this project, you can read the HAPTEX fact sheet on CORDIS. And if you happen to be in Helsinki, Finland, by the end of this month, the HAPTEX team will hold a workshop there on November 23, 2006.

And for more details, you can read the Architectural Design of the Haptex System (PDF format, 7 pages, 264 KB) or the latest HAPTEX newsletter (PDF format, 2 pages, 222 KB, July-September 2006)

The image above has been extracted from this newsletter, even if the PDF document doesn't allow a direct copy of its contents. As the official project site is realized with Flash technology, which also doesn't allow for easy communication, I'm wondering what these researchers are doing with money from taxpayers.

This leads me to another point. The HAPTEX site has an interesting image gallery. But for exploring it, you need to click on a tab named "Dissemination!" Considering that the researchers are doing all what they can to avoid this "dissemination," isn't ironic they chose this word?

I was involved with virtual reality projects for years, and I'm sure this one will fail. Of course, it will advance computer science, but as a consumer, you will never buy a haptic device.

Sources: IST Results, November 2, 2006; and various websites

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