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The flotor is suspended inside a larger sphere by electromagnets, and its position is monitored by optical sensors.   (Source: Carnegie Mellon University)

Demonstrators show off how the device is used to control a small cube trapped inside a larger cube (top), and 3D objects in a larger playfield.  (Source: Carnegie Mellon University/DailyTech)
Will we have floating, force-feedback enabled joysticks in our future?

When one thinks of haptic interfaces – that is, computer interfaces based on touch and feel – many think of the vibration features in modern joysticks and gamepads. Researchers at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, however, think way beyond that, and recently began distributing copies of a new, levitating force-feedback computer interface to fellow researchers around the country.

The interface itself – a floating, bowl-shaped device controlled by a handle the user grabs – is magnetically suspended inside a larger, open-faced main shell. When gripped by a user, it grants a full six dimensions of movement, while responding to the force-feedback output of the computer. A video produced by Carnegie Mellon researchers shows users manipulating a small cube trapped inside another, larger cube: responding appropriately when the small cube collides with the larger cube’s walls, and allowing users to push, pull, twist, and flip the small cube with relative ease. Another video segment shows a different user using two maglev interfaces to manipulate a series of simple geometric objects around a 3D playfield.

A press release issued by Carnegie Mellon indicates that a computer reads the interface’s movements using a series of optical sensors, which then feeds the data to 3D object in question. To convey haptic data, the computer sends signals back to the device’s electromagnetic coils, controlling the movement of the flotor. “We believe this device provides the most realistic sense of touch of any haptic interface in the world today,” said research professor Ralph Hollis, whose team developed the device.

Currently unnamed, the device has been in development for over 11 years, with an initial prototype successfully built in 1997. Now, armed with the assistance of a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Hollis says he intends to make the device more widely available. Grant funds allowed Hollis and his team to build 10 copies, distributing six of them to researchers at Harvard, Stanford, Purdue, Cornell, and the universities of Utah and British Columbia.

Hollis says he also started a spinoff company to further commercialize the interface, noting that it carries a strong potential in a wide variety of fields. Hong Tan, an associate professor who studies human perception of fine surface textures, says the device is “beyond the capability of most commercially available haptic devices … the maglev device developed by Dr. Hollis will make it possible for us to continue [our] research.”

“Now other people can have this technology, and this represents technology transfer in the very real sense,” says Hollis.

The device will be formally unveiled at the IEEE 16th Symposium on Haptic Interfaces for Virtual Environments and Teleoperator Systems, to be held on March 13-14 in Reno, Nevada.

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By legoman666 on 3/5/08, Rating: 0
RE: no
By JKflipflop98 on 3/5/2008 10:32:23 AM , Rating: 5
How are those desktop speakers workin out for ya?

RE: no
By legoman666 on 3/5/2008 10:52:52 AM , Rating: 2
Heh. Got me.

Although back when I had a CRT monitor, my speaker next to the monitor used to cause the screen to fluctuate.

RE: no
By MrBlastman on 3/5/2008 10:56:02 AM , Rating: 2
A faraday cage would help to drastically alleviate this problem.

Have you not ever seen shielded speakers?

RE: no
By legoman666 on 3/5/2008 12:24:05 PM , Rating: 2
I don't even have the CRT monitor anymore and my speakers are now further away from my screen than they used to be.

RE: no
By mattclary on 3/5/2008 2:55:37 PM , Rating: 4
You don't have much to worry about, it takes an incredibly strong field to degauss a hard drive. Might not to want to lay a floppy disk on it, but if you are using floppies, you have bigger issues to worry about.

RE: no
By johnsonx on 3/6/2008 3:35:54 PM , Rating: 3
ok, a story from the wayback time: Over at Rockwell (now part of Boeing) they used to have a rule that said you couldn't organize computer tapes by hanging them on the wall - the concern was that someone could walk by on the other side of the wall with a magnet in their pocket and potentially damage the data on the tapes. After some years of this, someone finally decided to do some testing. They found that even at a distance of just a few inches through a simple plaster wall (no shielding effect at all), to have even a chance of affecting the data on the tapes it would take a magnet so large two men couldn't carry it down the hallway.

Useful to control flying saucers....
By wingless on 3/5/2008 10:01:29 AM , Rating: 3
This is the type of interface we need to control flying saucers that can fly in any direction. I can't wait for MS Flight Simulator: Alien Spacecraft Edition.

RE: Useful to control flying saucers....
By Master Kenobi on 3/5/2008 10:05:09 AM , Rating: 3
Indeed. Pew pew!

By Mitch101 on 3/5/2008 11:26:50 AM , Rating: 2
AHHHHhhhhhh! You got me!

By theapparition on 3/5/2008 11:52:46 AM , Rating: 4
They already sell six-axis controllers (and no...I'm not talking about Playstation).

I've been using Spaceballs for years. Haven't tried any of the new models since Logitech bought them, but check out the link.

The only thing these lack are the force feeback and the feeling that you've just molested a giant orange.

By isorfir on 3/5/2008 10:29:56 AM , Rating: 5
What they didn't tell you is that the guy that's duel-wielding these babies (last picture) is actually controlling the guy to his right (behind him for us) and making him drink from an empty bottle just as this picture is being taken, thus making the water bottle guy look like a total moron in what is probably his only chance at fame. These guys truly are geniuses.

RE: Deceiving...
By RobberBaron on 3/5/2008 11:09:11 AM , Rating: 2
I knew there was something fishy!

Thanks for the laugh. :)

RE: Deceiving...
By mattclary on 3/5/2008 2:56:54 PM , Rating: 2
dual = 2
duel = 2 guys trying to kill each other

RE: Deceiving...
By isorfir on 3/5/2008 3:24:16 PM , Rating: 2
Oh Bob Saget!

What are the power requirements
By Spyvie on 3/5/2008 12:40:18 PM , Rating: 2
Electromagnets that are powerful enough to levitate the “handle” and provide useful force feedback would have to require a considerable amount of current.

RE: What are the power requirements
By mattclary on 3/5/2008 2:59:59 PM , Rating: 2
Where does it mention electromagnets? Magnetically <> electromagnetically.

RE: What are the power requirements
By mattclary on 3/5/2008 3:15:07 PM , Rating: 2
Electric current flowing through the coils interacts with powerful permanent magnets underneath, causing the flotor to levitate. A control handle is attached to the flotor.

The magnets are permanent, the current needed for the sensors should be negligible.

RE: What are the power requirements
By Spyvie on 3/5/2008 4:00:16 PM , Rating: 2
What about the current necessary for the haptic response?

By mattclary on 3/5/2008 6:57:41 PM , Rating: 2
Momentary bumps I would imagine. It's to allow you to "feel" objects, not feel like you are lifting them.

Six Dimensions?
By seekerofknowledge on 3/6/2008 9:52:47 AM , Rating: 3
When gripped by a user, it grants a full six dimensions of movement,...

Don't you mean three dimensions?

RE: Six Dimensions?
By cretinbob on 3/20/2008 1:46:23 AM , Rating: 2
FT press release:
"A user moves the handle much like a computer mouse, but in three dimensions with six degrees of freedom — up/down, side to side, back/forth, yaw, pitch and roll"

yeah, this article kinda missed that.

By an0dize on 3/5/2008 10:33:54 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe its just me, but that looks like it would be extraordinarily uncomfortable to use for more than a few moments. Looks like it has great potential though for a few uses. Might be fun for flight sims if it ever makes it to consumer use.. Though it will probably cost a fortune, and I'm sure, in its current state, it draws a ridiculous amount of power to run those electro magnets.

RE: Uncomfortable..
By TITAN1080 on 3/5/08, Rating: 0
RE: Uncomfortable..
By augiem on 3/5/2008 11:51:48 AM , Rating: 2
Just design it inset into an arm on the chair or in a hole on the desk and it'd probably be ok.

Post from the future...
By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 3/5/2008 11:14:47 AM , Rating: 2
Hey, whatever happened to the Microsoft "Bob" interface? And Bernoulli drives? Oh, and that goofy levitating interface?

RE: Post from the future...
By Polynikes on 3/5/2008 4:51:48 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, although this is a very neat way to control something, I don't see why it would be any better than a non-levitating joystick. I mean, what's the point? Did they just do it because it was possible?

By MrBlastman on 3/5/2008 10:10:48 AM , Rating: 3
Pretty interesting concept. I'm a joystick snob myself and have spent over 1000.00 on a good custom gimbaled HOTAS with hall effect sensors for my PC so I can understand the researchers fascination in this field.

I think the first thing that comes to mind would be the medical field. Currently doctors use a wide array of non-invasive procedures designed to spare the patient recovery time due to the trauma caused from the surgery itself. Knee surgery is a great example. I'm not sure how much feedback they currently get using the joysticks they use, but I'd imagine this device would provide a key advantage over traditional gimbaled systems (with exceptions of course):

a. No flat spots/detents (a huge problem with the majority of gimbaled solutions out there - there are expensive exceptions though)

b. Equal resistance throughout the movement axes (though programatically it could be varied to give the doctor tactile fields of travel to aid in precision)

c. haptic feedback - if they could fine tune this the doctor could perhaps "bump" something inside the body and it would be translated back to his hand through the stick in a far more tactile manner than simply a bump here or there

d. Multiple axes on one device without any clunking. They can possibly push and pull as well as twist while directing all with one hand allowing them to utilize their second hand for another device.

e. Lack of potentiometers (no pots to clean, electromagnetic detection of movement yields higher resolution)

I could probably think of many more uses but the medical field is the first area that comes to mind. The sheer ability for doctors to have simulated touch while manipulating instruments while in the body I think is a huge benefit to further advancing non-invasive procedures.

By Raidin on 3/5/2008 11:50:25 AM , Rating: 2
I wonder if the magnets holding the interface 'joystick' up are strong enough to provide resistance to mimic the feel of what you may be controlling...

Power Usage?
By JonnyDough on 3/5/2008 12:44:34 PM , Rating: 2
Can anyone comment on the probable power usage on a maglev device? I know the Maglev train is supposed to be very efficient. Is USB2.0 enough to power this baby? To the author: Any idea as to how much force or weight these magnets are holding up? Can you rest your hand on the joystick or just grab onto it? It's all very curious. Yes yes. Curious indeed.

I've seen this idea before...
By dflynchimp on 3/5/2008 1:40:25 PM , Rating: 2
in...Minority Report!

Oh come the day we'd get to use those fancy holo gloves that Tom got to act all cool with.

By Blood1 on 3/5/08, Rating: -1
"Vista runs on Atom ... It's just no one uses it". -- Intel CEO Paul Otellini

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