Creative Technologies 2.11.2023: Beyond the Limits of Human Touch
Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to today's Creative Technologies Seminar. Our topic today is Beyond the limits of human touch. My name is Juliana Harkki. I'm a doctoral researcher in the Department of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering, and I will be the moderator of this seminar.
Today we have two great speakers today. And our first speaker is Professor Francis McGlone. He is a visiting professor in the Liverpool Neuroscience Group. He's a neuroscientist with a primary focus on somatosensory systems and the nerve fibers that code for touch, pain and itch. He pioneered research into a class of nerves that code for pleasurable touch, and he has published over 300 research papers. Welcome, Francis McGlone.
Thank you. I'd like to thank the Creative Technologies Consortium for the invitation to give this talk, and hopefully I will change your lives in some small way. When I give you some evidence for the fact that touch is no more complicated than you think, it is so touching and feeling this title to states to systems is a sense of touch, you know, about. You know, if a fly landed on your nose, you'd feel it.
Most people think that that's the sense of touch. Well, it's far more interesting than that and far more complicated. This is quite pertinent, by the way, this little joke, because we're moving into a world now where touch is becoming more and more humanized and less or less available because of these smartphones and touch touch screens. We're missing something as fiction. The Naked Sun. Isaac Asimov invented a world in which a tiny fixed population of humans live out their days on enormous estates, waited upon by scores of robots.
The solarium, the social ambiance is something like that of a 19th century Russian novel of scrupulous attention to social Maus and rankings is only enhanced by this bizarre fact delivered from material want. Or the requirement for sex or procreation is scientific managed in birthing centers a la Brave New World. They have evolved a severe taboo against physical proximity of any kind. Indeed, the solariums never even occupy the same room together, let alone touch. And that was Asimov in 57, 1957.
That's quite prophetic because that is the world that we're moving into. And I'm going to explain how dangerous that scenario is. So we all know the skills, our largest sensory organ. These are the things we know intuitively about staying in terms of tactile exploration, assessments of textures, alcohol, etc., and also comments that are quite germane now that the Nobel Prize last year was awarded for the first discovery of how touch mechanical stimuli are actually encoded by cellular systems. So this whole field is lighting up now, understanding more about the mechanisms that are pertinent to how human beings or any animal detects touch.
And, you know, artists and writers have often made comments about how touch is a language is. Margaret Atwood always tells the truth. And if you look about flowers, you don't know whether they're fake or not. You'll touch them
as the arbiter. Now, why study touch? It's fundamental to the human interactions. And there's a couple of examples here how just touching somebody gently can change their behavior.
This is done quietly and implicitly or not intuitively. You know, does the the subliminal touch by a waiter who just when they're giving you the bill, they gently touch you, you give them more money. These are the disciplines that are basically coalescing around how the sense of touch can be investigated. And you'll see down there art and design a virtual reality.
We're trying to simulate or emulate tactile interactions now. And what I want to describe is how complicated that process is. So as a neuroscientist, this is the bottom line. And what you'll get for my thought today is we've discovered another sense of touch, which is playing a fundamental role in the social aspects of the validity of behaviors.
And it's a nerve fiber. So a quick look at the skin. We've got two types of skin.
Basically, we've got the skin on the palm of the hand, the soles of the feet, and the lips is called global skin. The rest of your body is covered in what's called hairy skin. Even though you don't see any has, you're covered in hair.
And this is a critical anatomical distinction for my talk is that there's a nerve fiber in hairy skin, which is rarely discovered in carpet skin. And it's it will see fiber that I would be exploring in terms of my interest in touch. So the hand really is the haptic that my lizard, where you'd feel objects is where you're manipulating tools. It's all of this quick stuff that you're trying to evaluate the world around you in terms of objects, your handling.
And of course, we know that this tactile system is represented in the human brain disproportionately because you've got more receptors on the fingers and the lips. So there's more brain power allocated to processing. But the interesting for me is this hairy skin, and that's the affective domain. This is where this nerve fiber that responds to gentle touch is more generally found.
If you read some of the comments here, I gave a talk to the British Psychological Society a few a few years ago where I made out that not touching your child was a form of abuse. It's not good, you know. You know, Google my name, but cologne and child abuse quite for the wrong conduct.
I even got onto the BBC. I'm like, Well, of course I'm only one I had to defend. Thanks, Karthik. Thank you.
How much physical contact is acceptable between a pupil and a teacher? If students are upset, should teachers comfort them or is any contact too much? Well, according to the neurologist, Professor Francis McGlone, educators are too scared to even give children a reassuring pat on the shoulder or guilty of abuse. Well, he joins us in the studio, along with executive headteacher of the Education and Leadership Trust, Patrick Kane. Welcome to both of you program this morning. Anyway, the executive head teacher didn't really agree with what I was saying because she was instructing the teachers not to touch a child and a child for having heard it. So don't touch it. That comment underneath that, this demonization of harmless touch, maybe a carryover from Puritanism in which the American satirist Mencken said that having the fear that some people may be having some fun and touch is giving that affective dimension to our lives. All animals have some sense of trust, all of them cuddle, nurture, etc.,
including of see humans not only in the reading of babies, but in the making of babies. I like to look at comparative physiology. Here's an example of a little worms. Got 340 neurons just about. But if you grow C elegans in a colony where it can touch each other, they grow to their normal length. If you grow C elegans digital worm in isolation, its growth, its stunted and its behavior has.
So what's missing in the little worm on its own touch? Well, pick this up later. By the way, with pre-term babies. What's the mechanism to. This is an interesting one. Some scientists looked at the solitary behavior of the octopus and they put ecstasy, MDMA in the tank.
And rather than playing with the toys and basically playing on its own, all these octopuses started playing with each other and touching each other. So here we have a link between serotonin and affective touch to anybody who may have taken ecstasy, might be aware of what's the mechanism? This is really germane to this argument in that the epigenetic element, this is work done by Michael many, many years ago who showed that highly nurtured pups, i.e. you can have two types of rat mothers, those at licking room, they're perhaps a lot and those that ignore them, those parts that get licked and groomed or not. And this is touch again, grow up to be sort of normal behaving rats. Those rats didn't get much touch.
Grow up to be anxious and aggressive. So there's a link here between early exposure to touch and epigenetically the expression of behavior over the lifespan. Again, we didn't know what the mechanism might be for this. You all know about hollow stuff with with monkeys removed from their mother at birth, given the opportunity to feed from a wire surrogate that had all the fuel where that monkey should have been or a cloth surrogate. There had no no reward associated with it because these monkeys instinctively cling to the soft surrogate. Even at birth, these babies are just born.
They are seeking soft touch, comfort. Okay. What's the mechanism? And just one finding for the primates.
The bonobos are closely related to humans. They spend a great deal of time touching and they're the most passive and peaceful of the primates. The ones that don't have that kind of behavior are actually aggressive, domesticated qualities. Their capacity for terrible violence can be reconciled by the early exposure to touch. So bonobos touch a great deal and moving closer to home with studies recently on the Romanian orphanage babies and the removal of a child from its natural nurturing environment and placed in these cots. There's a lot of evidence now that these children were they're fed and watered.
They do not develop normally. They are all suffering serious neurocognitive deficits. When these babies were discovered in Romania and in Romania of orphanages in the 1998, when they were placed in foster care, their behavior improves significantly. But the later that happened, the worse the prognosis was. There are critical period in the very early life of a baby where that touch is absolutely critical, the way that that brain is wiring up this sense of self.
And James Prescott, who worked in IMH, had a very strong theory that that's somatic sensory deprivation ultimately leads to violent behavior in adulthood. I'm now convinced the deprivation of physical sensory pleasure is the root cause of violence, though I don't know. Many of the influential psychologists in the 1950s in North America. JB Watson I love these comments. You know, never hug and kiss your kids.
Give them a good stiff handshake and only touch Sharwood Enter Manhood booklet with stable work ethics. my God. However, if you look at if we look at his own children, he had two children, his first wife, one of whom attempted suicide in later life, and also his second wife. His kids were following his his mandate and how to bring a child up, but he didn't fare too well either. So beware of advice from people that have no understanding of what they're talking about. And just finally, on this on this building, this case, loneliness is becoming more and more significant problem, particularly in countries like North America.
More and more people are living on their own. What don't lonely people get? They don't get the physical contact that they would normally get in a more social environment. And the odd ratio of an early death from loneliness is 45%. It's higher than smoking. So again, there's something going on here, and this is why I keep coming up with what's the mechanism.
And this is just recap what I've just said about that. The argument I'm building now that there's something going on here and it's a bit like this. I am trying to find out a clue in a cool sort of example. So the common thread is gentle touch.
I now going to tell you what the mechanism is. So we have two types of touch. The one we know most about is the discriminative. This is the one that tells you that some of these touch you.
This is coded by fast myelinated nerve fibers. So if somebody touches you, feel immediately. This is all about detecting and discrimination and we know where this maps into the brain, etc..
We know a fair amount about these receptors that code for discriminative touch. However, we have another population of nerve fibers in this clinical see fibers see fibers are unmoderated nerve fibers and unmanaged nerve fibers send information to the brain very slowly. The classic example is the nose receptor. Now, if you put your finger on a hot plate, the fast pain system pulls you back.
If you may, you'll probably swear. But then you'll know a minute later that emotional experience of pain. It's come in much later and it could be there for an hour or two.
That's what see fibers do. They provide emotional input into the brain. So going back to my Swedish colleagues in 1939, Swedish neuro neurophysiologist called Zotterman discovered a C fiber in a CAT scan. I think that responded to fast touch, which he would have expected.
Then on that second trace, you can see spikes coming along that nerve fiber in response to that stroking catch over the receptive field of this nerve, either a mechanical response to stroking touch. Then over the ensuing decades, these nerve fibers found in other mammals, and then ultimately it was found in humans. A Swedish neurophysiologist. Early in the late 1980s, this nerve fibers was discovered in humans and they're called C low threshold maternal receptors. They migrate. We study these nerve fibers using a whole range of techniques.
What I'll focus on is micro geography coupled with psycho physics, and also using functional brain imaging to look inside the brain. This robot took a couple of years to develop, probably cost half a million dollars. But what he wanted to do is deliver stroking touch, knowing velocities and forces to different body parts and asked people, How do you feel? And we were the first people to actually try that. The micro geography is a phenomenal technique. It's like wire tapping, a peripheral nerve.
You put a electrode through the skin into an underlying bundle and you can listen in to conversations coming down, different classes of nerve, I think would be touch, temperature, pain itch. And this is where the tactile was discovered. And its response is here we come up with our robot, with the micro neuropathy. And what you can see here, you can just see those electrodes poking through the skin into into my skin actually entered online and we found a low threshold, a kind of receptor. The robot stroked across its reception field.
You get that response from the unit. This is touch at the encoding level that your brain is it interested in. And this is the lovely Rachelle actually is really skilled in recording on the CT and here you'll see a response, a fast response and the slow one and dependent on the velocity that Rachelle is stroking that receptive field, the fiber is far more excited by a slow stroking touch than a fast stroking touch.
This basically shows these two types. This is a far from every time. If you go and fail to see tactile afferent, the slow touch is on that and there you'll see a different kind of response, a definite delay now between that physical stimulus and how that's actually working. Listen to the anyway, what you're seeing here for the mind that the fiber loves to touch.
So what's the functional role? Why are they there? The slow conduction velocity? They have variable responses. They're not present in global scale. We found one or two possibly, but they're not functional. They're not pain receptors.
People thought these were just another class in those receptor when they were first discovered that decades of work has characterized. Nerve fibers have been absolutely fundamental and they exist. So this is the first study we did where we asked people, is it sensible to even ask if people like touch? So we took our robot and we stroked it. Different velocities across the skin and participants just say our pleasant is that and what we find when we look at a psychophysical response is that at five centimeters per second people rate, that touch is more pleasant than fast or slow. And on different body parts is a different emotional ranking.
So when you're stroking across the face, that same physical stimulus is reported as being more pleasant. There's probably more of these nerve fibers here, and here is what we would intimate from that. So the psyche, physics and the micro geography were then put together. This is like a four or five year program where we recorded the response properties of this tactile afferent.
And that's that graph there on the left. And what you'll see is certain velocity is like three centimeters per second. The nerve fiber is firing more effectively than fast or slow. If this was the first touch system, the faster you stroke the more than the fires. We then take our psychophysical experiment and we asked human beings, Which of these velocities do you like most? And we find exactly the same functional curve, that quadratic equation that quadratic effects, and that basically with our social touch hypothesis, the pleasant touch hypothesis. So those papers you can see there, this is the wiring diagram.
If you want to know how these things get to the brain, we still don't quite know where they project. So effective touch is to summarize that initial didactic element here. So conducting unmonitored nerve fibers found primarily in here in scale, the optimal stimulus is gentle touch. They're also beautifully tuned to temperature, so they will fire more to a skin temperature. Touch stands cooler a woman who doesn't like cold hands. So in human infants gentle touch, which shown reduces pain, increases vagal activity, even impacts on the immune system.
This nerve fibers doing a hell of a lot of work in the very early stages of of life and development. This is the example of the study we've been working looking mothers with stroke in their babies, and there's a reciprocal relationship between heart rate synchronicity and that baby and touch. This tactile interaction is cementing that interaction, which is effectively measured by a marker here called respiratory silence, arrhythmia, which basically is a measure of relaxation. So when these mothers are touching their infants, we get this change in heart rate, which is linking them as a level of relaxation between the mother and the infant. And interestingly enough, that bar on the right shows that this effect keeps on growing after the mother puts the baby down.
So they see five like my pain that is responding way after the event has happened. One way we wanted to get it, how we can prove that gentle touch is providing a really important level in regulating stress. This is a fundamental property of this nerve fiber is regulating stress. So I had a collaboration with a guy in Chile who had stress models of rodents, and I convinced Alexis to basically take a group of rats every day, stroke them for just 10 minutes at what we think is the velocity of this nerve fiber or rat. Another group with stroke like that, another group are basically just left alone.
And over two weeks over they were subjected to a chronic mild stress paradigm, 10 minutes of touch every day, lights going on, smell a cat spicy, a stressful two weeks. At the end of that two weeks, we put them through a number of behavioral tests and those rats that had the stroke in touch when they're put into this water bath experiment, measuring cortisone, they behaved exactly the same as the non stress rat, the stress rats. Of course, our levels are through the roof, 10 minutes of touch a day that regulates this animal's response through a stressful situation.
They were resilient to stress. Another test we showed is the anxiety like behavior won't walk across a high, high surface if they're anxious. Here we see these rats again were just chilled. All they had was 10 minutes touch every day. So our next steps really are to try and look at how we can unravel the circuitry in rodent models, but also take that understanding of this nerve fibers, response properties into human studies.
And this is been my interest in pre-term babies is basically focusing at the moment. This is something I'm hoping to develop with also here. And as a neurobiologist, I'm always interested if you want to understand an of behavior, you put it in the environment that is involved in this. Look at the pre-term baby.
When those babies are removed from the womb. Obviously the clinical reasons for the baby's life and the mothers and place in an incubator, What do you think is missing? So if you didn't know this, no fiber existed, you wouldn't know that it needs to be stimulated. Those babies that get a gentle touch put back in the in the incubator, those babies brains develop significantly differently and better. So what I've done is developed a device that will basically be placed this is a prototype. This mattress here basically will be placed underneath the baby.
And the baby, these babies will be placed on this on this stroking mattress. And we'll put the touch back that the infant would have been receiving in utero with the amniotic fluid rubbing over skin and the movement against the womb wall. And what where hypothesizing is that this will make a significant impact epigenetically on the expression of stress receptor systems in the human brain, as well as things like serotonin and the baby's immune system. So that's that's the future in terms of how we can take this device, take this understanding of these nerve fibers relevance. Just give you an example.
If you don't know what you don't know. There was an operation done in the 1980s by neonatal surgeons, a little baby, Jeffrey, at a heart defect. They took baby Jeffrey City open, lifted the lung out, tied this up together again, sodium back and put him back in his bed. Do you know what he had? He had an anesthetic and nothing.
He had no in this. He had a muscle relaxant. Yeah. That baby was wide awake in terms of no exception for that whole operation. He died a few days later, but the neurosurgeon didn't think the C5 and notice helped his system was functioning. I'm going to make the same argument about this tactile system. If you don't know it's functioning, you don't know that it's absolutely critical for early stage life, for that baby's brain to know that it's not a body and itself, because 25% of preterm babies develop autism, many of them will have some kind of, you know, developmental deficit, not always extremely noticeable.
But there are legacies of that preterm birth, which I think we can fix if we put touch back. This is just a peer review for the British to have to do that kind of I'm not a huggy person. you're stiff.
Not it only is normal for me to put too much stress in your life and you know it's good for relieving stress volume. A big hogging is a continental affectation like cheek kissing and Watsons in England we shake hands and only handshake is just as good as a hug and it stops catching each other's germs. Well, I don't care.
I'm going to keep on hugging you whether you like it or I. I mean, I want you to give you a real future now. I came across a colleague who worked at the university, Lethbridge, in Canada, and he had these Alzheimer's disease models of mice. And he was taking these mice and he was just stroking them every day for ten or 11 days after they'd been stressed. He knew nothing about this nerve fiber until I told him that the evidence that he was getting from the studies that reversed the death, the the the effects of Alzheimer's disease on plaque formation, basically plaque formation was reduced in these mice that basically got stroking touch. Now, this really is interesting because, again, he didn't know what the mechanism might be.
I mean, these nerve fibers is playing a role, which is almost unbelievable in terms of it's important across the lifespan. But what we need to do is invest more and more in trying to understand how that fiber actually is providing all these benefits. The other experiment that Brian did was actually brain damage in a mouse, but also sucking out a bit of the prefrontal cortex, using a lot of behavioral experiments to look at these mice that got the sham operation and those that had the actual operation, again, just by delivering touch those mice recovered function. And when he looked in the brain at the neuro development, these neurons were also improved in this sign up to Genesis. And again, all he's done is that.
So there's a story here that needs to be more broadly sort of broadcast because we're living in a world now where this is no longer available, and I've christened this on the the vitamin T, you know, if you are deficient in vitamin C or vitamin D, either B symptoms and they gave you the vitamin I think. Cove it's demonstrated very clearly that many people were deficient in vitamin D, They weren't getting enough touch. Their stress levels go through the roof.
And then what happened here in the United Kingdom, everyone went out and bought bloody dogs. Why did they buy dogs? They needed to stroke something. Anyway, thank you.
Thank you for your attention. Our next speaker is Xiao Yu. She is an associate professor at Department of Information and Communications Engineering here at Aalto. She got her doctoral degree in computer science here in Aalto in 2012.
And her research interests include edge computing, wearable sensing and extended reality. Welcome. Thank you.
Yeah, Thanks for the introduction and it's really a great pleasure to come here to discuss and very exciting area of research and innovation there. Just wearable haptic interfaces for extended reality. So extended reality technologies such as virtual reality already a remarkable visual and auditory experience.
However, the sense of touch is often missing. So how can we feel virtual objects in extended reality? That's where the wearable haptic interfaces come into play. So wearable haptic interfaces comes in various forms like a glove vest, full bodysuit, and they could replicate the sensation of physical interaction with objects. So they allowed us to sense or feel the size, the shape, the texture, and also the weight of objects in a virtual environment. So you could imagine that with this kind of devices, our exact areas is going to be more intuitive, more engaging, and also more practical. And in practice, there are two types of haptic interfaces nowadays.
The first category called kinesthetic devices. So this kind of devices mimic the resistance of force encountered when interacting with objects. So you can imagine that they often have, for example, some exoskeleton structures that connect to major joints of your body, like your fingertips, your wrists, your waist like that, and they incorporate some motors and bricks into that to generate this force feedback. And the other category is called cutaneous devices. So they deliver the sensations directly to our skin using methods like vibration, electric shock, ultrasound or thermoelectric generators.
And a typical haptic interface is comprises sensors, actuators and a control system. And to show you, you know, the latest advancement in this field, I have selected three commercially available products as illustrated examples. So the first example come from a sense of the events graph novel. And by the way, they have actually a newer version called a Nova two. And since I didn't find the very detailed specs, so I decided to use Nova Ace2 as an example. And this Nova glove, it offers the force feedback through a magnetic a friction brakes.
So there are four brakes dedicated to each finger from your thumb to your ring finger. And then with this kind of brakes, it kind of could simulate the different sizes and stiffness of objects. Additionally It has a two vi vibro textile x ray torus located on your thumb and also your index finger so they could recreate a vibration. And you can see from the picture that they have many wires. And by measuring the extension of this wires, they could also provide a pretty precise, let's say, finger tracking.
So the second example is called a have two x gloves, G one PS come from the company called Hap X and this is a bit different. So this is done in consist of a pack. You can see like a box in the middle and a pair of gloves on each graph.
They have 135 five tactile actuators and how it works is that they have this compressed air controlled by this air pack and. This compressed air would then power all this apparatus and this x ray to like a display place your skin up to 1.5 millimeter to apply physical pressure. And that way you can feel or sense the texture of objects. And these are gloves you want also offer a force feedback using a technology called microfluidic actuation, and they also support the magnetic emotion tracking.
And the third example is Tesla suit. I assume it has nothing to do with the Tesla car, and this provides the full body haptic feedback using electrical muscle stimulation and and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. So you can imagine this kind of electric pulses. So this, through these pulses, emulates the mass of object at this shoot, you could also use it for monitoring, for example, your heartbeat rate or your pulse rate. And you can see this different they use different technologies.
They are very complex. And another thing is that they are very expensive. So if you are a student or is a researcher without a lot of funding and you want to, you know, develop some haptic, let's say feedback for your VR and you want to buy these, then you might easily spend like €10,000 for these devices.
So our journey into this world of haptic, I would say, began with just a curiosity. And we just wanted to see if we can create our own haptic devices and make them open source. So then actually, in spring 2021, we came across an Arab Dinon and he graduated from an outdoor arts and his VR project called the Love Simulation Eve. And simultaneously, actually our one thing is also the AR student, but with engineering background, she was looking for a master thesis topic, and then we decided to join our force and created a viral textile glove or feedback for this project. And that is how we started the journey.
And actually, after a couple of brainstorming session, the idea began to kind of take shape and we got some concrete scenario. For example, can we like, let users feel their own heartbeat? Can we let people sense the raindrop on their palms? So this kind of scenarios and as we are from the work, we are engineer, so we always made a wish list from engineering standpoint. So we aim to craft something reconfigurable and which means that designers and engineers would be able to create diverse, viral, tactile feedback using the same hardware and open APIs and of course, there are other essential criteria, like we want these to provide high resolution to be wireless, be cost effective, and to be wearable as well.
So our wish list was quite long and we started by selecting the right motor vibration. Motor to use and also determine their placement. And we opted actually.
And what we need to take into account is that we want this motors to be very small, very thin. So that's why we opted for this coil vibration motor with the smallest size we could found at that time. And regarding this placement, we eventually settled on 18 motors. So including 15 on the Palm and three on the back of the hand. And for your information, actually at that time, the commercial ones have up to five motors in the literature.
Somebody have tried 15 and we went with this 18. So then when we have selected this one, we actually still went through four iterations in terms of a hardware prototyping and, you know, as many others have do. The first thing is that we wanted to make a quick and dirty prototype and we went to the electronic workshop to see what kind of component we can find from there. So we built the first one chassis. We just put the three vibration motors, we sold all of them together and we attach them to each finger. And of course in the thumb you have only two.
So this is something very quick to make and testable. But then the problem is that you can barely bend your finger, so this is not going to work. So then we tried the second version.
Okay, now we made of plastic a PCB, and we sold to the motors on top of that, still three or two on one and put it to that. Now it looks more compact. We were happy. But then unfortunately this finger, let's say mobility remained the issue and we tried one more time.
Now we don't we don't want to use plastic. We go with thicker PCB. Yeah, now it's softer. But then the other problem is that we want people to be able to easily make it and maintain it too. So it shouldn't get broken easily, but in practice it's actually not easy to soldered or smolders on PCB. And when we have so many small PCBs, it's very difficult to repair and and to the park as well.
So then we dropped this idea of using this kind of DCB We came back. So at the end we make them all clean version. We just put those. So the those,
let's say motors on the glove and we move all the components as many as possible onto one copper PCB. So that integrated over 100 components at the end. And then we actually also use 3D printer to make kind of a case that could fit this PCB as well as the factories.
And you might have noticed that actually at the end we have two layers of this glove and the inner layer is just normal cotton glove, and then the outer layer has this motor. And the idea is that you could wash this inner layer when you gave to somebody else to use. So our journey and by the way, just to mention that we make this one as the open source.
So it means that we have the PCB design and also the API is available. And if this applies, you could controlled the vibration intensity, the duration of frequency of each motor. And I also like to mention that when it comes to if you are a designer, you are probably more interested in the haptic design. So what we have learned that it's not just about the presence of vibration, it's more about how the vibration is patterned in time and space for example, the range of can translate into gentle vibration on random spots on your palm, or if there is like a water flow through your hand, it could be implemented as a certain kind of vibration waves there. So they had many different ways you could program. So they are programable.
So our journey didn't stop there. And after that graph project, we also tried to create a haptic bracelet that could guide the stroke patients in their rehabilitation exercises, although it had a limited success. And now we are working on our third haptic project, and this time our aim is to create immersive virtual sound experience. And this work is now part of the ongoing European media immersion.
That project funded by EU and the project started last autumn. So I would like to first to show you a short video so you kind of can get a glimpse of our current progress. But I must warn you that this could just give you a visual overview of our project because it's not easy, or maybe even not impossible to demonstrate this haptic feedback in a video. Yeah, and this is our first prototype.
I will explain what they are. So that looks like okay. Or something. Yeah.
So how we actually develop in this one. So first of all, in this project, we first follow some very typical design project, Phaedrus. So we started by exploring the human textile sensation, defining design requirements, making prototype, and then evaluating the user experience and then repeat. And I think as you have done also in your design project, but in this process, we continuously erase some research questions. So first we sought to understand how individuals experience and express the thermal sensation of Osama and our doctoral student Timor Scan.
Next, we invited different people to the sauna. So he has been to sauna, which I don't know how many ten, 20 people. And besides this verbal interview, he also employ this visual and tactile methods just to, you know, to see how people can describe actually imagine is not so easy to just use verbal words to explained or to describe your experience.
And what he has learned is that this sauna experience is highly dynamic and personal. Why we say it's dynamic because many people report that you start with a very intensive, intensive start, but then there is some kind of graduate calling effects after that, and your feels that there is a heat flow from top to bottom. And some people even say, I started to first feel pain, you know feel the pain, but after that I feel relaxed and happy. And of course, you know, this varies also between subjects. But then when we got this result, we started this calm.
Now how to recreate this one first, how to recreate all this. But meanwhile, when we were doing this user test, we started to explore the technical approaches to create a heat and cold. So how do you create a heat and cold? So we eventually settled on two options.
So the first one is a heating pad made of conductive Young's and the other is Peltier module. So how this Peltier module work is that it's transfer the heat from one side to the other side when the current where the electric currents go through it. And you can imagine that if you switch the direction of that, then this cold side and hot side would also like flip like that. And we the X-ray experiment just to assess how fast the temperature would change and also how the voltage control would impact the results.
So just to get to understand how the technology actually work. So then after that, our next challenge is where to place those Peltier modules or those heating yarns. And to answer this question, we actually need to address two issues. So first is how would people actually perceive the thermal sensation? And the other one is how we how can we recreate these heat flow? So from the literature, we have actually learned that the ability for individuals to discriminate, the temperature change depends on many factors, including, for example, where exactly the location on your skin, the stimulation is applied, the initial temperature of your skin and the amplitude of the temperature change, and also how fast you change that. And this is also kind of like a personal because when we ran the experiment, we noticed that let's say somebody in my family already, when it's 38 degrees. Summary, my need to wait until 40.
So that's still different. And as I said, we ran some user tests. We want to validate this assumption and they are validated. But meanwhile we try to gather some crucial data. For example, the relationship between this temperature variation, a different skin location and the corresponding receptor response and why we want to collect this data because this data points would be instrumental in configuring our Peltier modules or heating pads or other apparatus in the VR game.
So we need to get data from there. So then that still has one open issue. So how how can we simulate the heat flow across the body? Well, one might suggest that put the Peltier everywhere on, but then from the Wearability perspective, I really don't have anybody else here. Do you want to wear a garment with hundreds of Peltier modules at four in? Nobody want to do that.
The question is, can we minimize the number of this electronic components like this Pelton module because they are rigid but without degrading the user experience, I can see audience start to think, How can I do that? And our current idea is that we would like to leverage the phenomena of thermal referral. So how does it mean? So imagine that the if you have this textile and thermal stimulation and you apply them to two nearby location on your skin, one thermal, one textile, and then people have learned that the temperature could be received also at the location where the textile is supplied. Do you get that? So there their thermal then this textile.
Yeah. So this does not relate directly to the dynamic movement of stimulation, but we can think in this way. What if the textiles, the semi stimulation side continuously shift? Would the, the temperature side also shift together so we could implement a textile for example, using simply light vibration motor. So what if we add some vibration motors to our garment? Can we utilize that to implement this kind of dynamic movement of heat? I don't have clear answer for that because we are still working on that.
But we we wish that we would have this garment ready for the user study in spring. And if you are insisting that welcome to join our user studies as well. So you will get the experience for us to him. And once we had the karma, as I just said, we will then shift the focus to the evaluation of user experience. And in this case we would like to emphasize the sense of emotion and realism and also your emotional engagement in this case. So we are not just going to ask you some questions or ask you to fill out some, let's say, questionnaires after the test.
We would also like to be able to measure, for example, your emotional status or your physiological signals during the test. And another big topic we also plan to start in next year is that can we utilize the air in haptic design, especially for personalized haptic design? Because we know that this haptic experience is personalized. And when we deployed any of this kind of system, how can we make it possible? And if we apply the AI there, we expect the AI to be able to automatically configure those Peltier modules or other actuators based on the user's preferences and the context of the sample experience and here now for us, the biggest challenge is we don't know yet how to measure your experience in real time, because if you imagine most of your user experience studies, they can't be done just in real time to tell how you feel that you while the project is still ongoing.
But we are very excited to already share with ASHA our PCB design and our open APIs with the research community. They are open source and can be reused for any research projects. And this is just a photo of this modular hardware design. So you don't necessarily need to use Peltier or vibration motor. You can replace it with any other x ray toys you want, but with this it will be very easy for you to start with. You can just get our PCB design, go to the studio to create that.
And we have also this APIs which will work directly on Unreal Engine. If you want to develop any VR applications, I can see already some no. So I probably will probably get some test uses already. Yeah.
So at the end I want to make a advertisment. We are still developing this more common and we are looking for a research assistant with a fashion and textile design background to join us to make our garment more wearable. So if any of you are interested, please contact me also after this event. And that would conclude my presentation. Thank you all for your attention. Okay, We'll have a panel discussion in a minute, but for those watching online, that's going to be a short break into streaming while we prepare to stage.
So don't go anywhere. Okay. We'll come back. We will be taking questions from the audience.
But as a moderator, I'd take the liberty to start. You both have been involved in developing haptic devices, and so have I. Actually, maybe first we could talk about the term haptic.
What does it actually mean? You? Yeah, I think as I said in the talk, maybe my definition is more this kind of traditional definition. So basically, I think this is something that could make you feel like you can feel if you feel the object, you can feel the size, the shape, the texture, you know, the weight. That's basically how I what I think the haptic is. But of course, I also think in, for example, virtual reality scenarios, if you imagine that it's a tourist game, you go there, you go to visit, let's say it's an icy area, very cold, even you are not touching anything. You should feel cold. And I don't know if that also does that also belong to the you know, that's the same definitions still work there.
Yeah I would say not. I think I take my definition of haptics and the Dianne's of this research. Roberta KASKY and Susan Leiderman, who define haptics as the ability to basically use kinesthetic and sensory information to detect an object.
So it's like this, like the visual system, not the touch system. Yeah. If you're looking in your pocket for a for a particular coin that's haptics. Yeah, you're using that exploratory touch procedures to basically identify an object through touch.
And that's my understanding of haptics when a lot of the haptic research people are just conflating haptics with touch. Yeah, that's not haptics. Exploratory procedures. Where I identified object is my definition of haptics. I think there's some confusion in terms of haptics, a bit of a posture, posture, word and touch.
But a lot of haptic technology is stimulating somatosensory systems. The skin doesn't just have touch receptors, of course. It's got thermal receptors, pain receptors, itch receptors, chemo receptors. The combination of all of those inputs defines body sensation. And the thing about touch, of course, it's very difficult to do it virtually.
Vision and hearing are easy to fool because you can fire photons and sound with that and actually do any physical contact but touch needs that which is obviously where your devices are really exploring their ability. You know, there is a possibility. Yeah, we did some brain imaging studies where we put people and brains kind of and we showed them someone doing that and someone doing that. And when there was actual physical contact that they were observing, their touch cortex would become activated by seeing touch. So there is possibly a window there.
By seeing touch, you can feel it. I've been asked before if we are trying to replace human touch, is there a danger of this kind of dystopia where we would not touch each other anymore? Yes. Yes. I think devices could do the job for us. What do you think? I would say from the research, this little nerve fiber that's obsessed me is that like vitamin tea? If you deny getting that vitamin, there are serious consequences on physical, mental health and your immune system that much.
We are now beginning to understand this idea of a touchless world. I find a little bit worrying. That's why this research, I think, needs to be broadcast in terms of the importance of physical contact these days.
As I mentioned, the early part of my thought, there's certain cultural resonances. You know, there was something I had a, a railway, a this was a station in, in London. And this basically is a sign that's been pinned up and it's saying touching someone and appropriately is sexual harassment and not tolerated.
I know in Chinese communities everybody's touching everybody. And that sort of cultural acceptance that physical contact is a part of normal life. This is a move to demonizing it. And I think what you think you see, it's scary. I think it's first you need to have a context.
People come to the haptic interfaces. For example, the simple case we made this of simple vibration motors to kind of simulate the brain job. But if you ask people to put a VR headset on and they see this kind of visual like a range topping and would say, Yeah, I feel raindrop, but now if you remove their hazards, you will repeat it.
What do you feel? Nothing. is there something vibrating there? And I think when people talk about these, it's also like in what context you apply these and in the physical world, why? I mean, we cannot really recreate everything that happened in the physical world, in the virtual world, and in our physical world. When you see people, when you communicate. So they are like other things going like the other part that just the touch. And when they come together, they have different meanings.
So I think for us, this has to you have to need to have a context. And then in what context you use that. Yeah, that actually brings me to the next next question I had in mind, because human touch is not just touch, it's a multisensory experience, as you just described, with other kind of touch as well. If a person touches this, we can also see and hear and smell the person touching us. But based on experiments in the lab, like Francis told, we do know that touch that is kind of stripped of all the social aspects does have a physiology effect. But if we think in real world, would it would it actually be possible to make a difference to human health or wellbeing with touch, which is purely just activating certain receptors and there is no social aspect or any other multisensory aspect to it? Like I think as you said, context is always so important here in terms of where that experience is happening and clear to isolate.
In another one of my favorites, if I was, you know, the Gnosis chapter, it kind of doesn't matter where you are and what context you're in. I think opinion you you're going to go, ouch. So the primary afferent doesn't really care about the input and the same of the C tactile afferent. If you stroke it, it's going to fire regardless. But I think there are a lot of processes top down that modulate the experience. And that's, I think, where the richness of the system needs to be understood.
And when you will tolerate someone giving you an injection, if the context is is for your own medical health, but if someone's sticking the needle on you for no reason, it's going to be far more painful. So contact certainly matters. And the multi-sensory thing is also important in that we're not just talking about touch.
Yeah, the smell can alter it. And the other modalities, you know, if you're looking at someone giving you an injection is different and looking away and all of these other modalities, I think come into that. The point is, I think is to respect the fact that these these systems developed in natural environments, which is that the well, the one I showed you about that mother stroking that baby to get that resonance between heart rate variability in the mother in the infant. MARTIN Vampire, though my colleague was leading that research. If you try to do that study in one of these posh baby labs, nothing would happen. Yeah, the only way you get that sensitive data is to bring the mother and the baby into their natural home environment.
And then you get these beautiful, subtle signals being monitored that we need to be careful. If you want to understand animals behavior, you can't bring it to a zoo, stick it in the cage and think because you're stripping away the complexity of all these systems evolved over sometimes millions of years to shape the animal's behavior. And it's the same thinking with, you know, my baby mattress is trying to replicate the environment of the womb in the incubator more, more reasonably, the help systems develop more naturally.
Yeah, But actually, when you mentioned this one, I was I just got curious. So if you make this month, it just kind of mimic this kind of touch. Do you also try to introduce something else, for example, mother of smell or maybe they feel mother's temperature and this kind of thing. It I've recognized the fact that to replicate that in utero environment, there's something missing as well, the vestibular system because the mother's moving around all the time.
Yeah. So that and there are incubators where they'll basically rock the key when I think it's this touch. But obviously you've got all the other effects that are happening with the you're drinking the milky fluid, obviously all these chemo sensory systems all are operating. So it's surprising that these toxic 22 or 23 weeks can survive out of the womb in any case.
But the medical profession is getting more and more sick. But I kind of wonder ethically, you know, because the trajectory of development, as we saw with the Romanian orphanage babies, is not good enough, that tactile. And it's the touch that mattered most in the way that the Romanian babies development was enhanced. But yes, you're absolutely right. We need to take care of all the other environmental influences that that brain needs and also develop normally. At this point, Do we have any questions from the audience? Very quiet.
I have a really basic one probably. And I was just wondering if like kissing is a form of touching or not. And yeah, that and this, that.
Yeah, that's an interesting one in terms I think human primates with the animals literally oscillation in the extended period and we do I did do a study where I looked at the response tactile responses on lip mercado sensors and we picked up the same kind of preference for velocity tuning on the lips that also impacted to some extent we would infer that there's a reward system allocated to that, that type of skin. But that's not hairy skin. And it's another conundrum because this is, I think they determined is more global skin the lips it no I mean it clearly is it's a very it's a very interpersonal way of communicating.
We got that amazing historical hysterical resonance with that Spanish coach kissed one of the the football players on the lips and the whole bloody world got completely rocked into how inappropriate was, which it probably was, actually. But there's something about lip to lip contact, isn't there? Which is, which is very, very different in terms of the, you know, the French all this kissing on the from the a on the cheeks. So and by the way, actually at least in the literature, I think, is that this year, last year there was already articles about this haptic device for mouth. So it could be also interesting to see how it works.
Yeah. Yeah. There is something about suckling behavior which interests me. You know, thumb sucking vaping, You know, I got this. There's a possibility. I know. I know what you think. This smoking is just a surrogate for babies that weren't breastfed who needed that sucking.
Maybe there's. There's a lot of soccer in sucking, and I wonder whether a lot of the vaping behaviors is because, you know, you're actually sucking something and these bottles of water with a nozzle looks a bit like a nipple. So people, you know, are they really just nurturing themselves in terms of the role of that kind of touch? And again, this system is all about regulating stress. Its main functional role is impact in the hypothalamic pituitary axis, which is your stress regulatory system. So that level touch is purely, you know, beneficial in too many ways.
Yeah. thank you both for your thoughts. So there's one interesting question I had since you talked a lot about mothers and infants and the sense of touch. So I was wondering, in many of the Western countries, they don't recommend co-sleeping with babies due to sudden infant death syndrome. But meanwhile, it's practiced all over the world.
So I was wondering if you have ever done any study related to it or what do you think about it now? That's a lovely question. I have a student who's actually looking at co-sleeping and she's coming in enormous prejudice against that. The danger of co-sleeping. And there is none when you look at the literature.
In fact, I was told if you looked at where co-sleeping became demonized, it tracks back and you can search this for yourself, the 16th century Catholicism there, because they practice this inability to have any birth control mothers for having more babies in like a care for. And they will confess in confession that they were rolling over in these babies and basically finishing them off. So that was one of the lead, were co-sleeping, became demonized.
And in fact, even in North America, like my student, who is American actually there are some hospitals in North America. When you leave that hospital with your baby, you need to sign a document that you will not co-sleep with your baby. And again, you know, you're messing around with 3 million years of evolution here. Well, you're absolutely right. You look at the so-called primitive tribes, they get up in the morning and they wear their baby. Yeah, that's the part of their daily life.
And what's happening here is that tactile interaction is being cemented and bonded. And now, of course, you know, the impact, the emphasis I, you know, is that babies born sticky on a stick in a nursery. So, no, I think the evidence really needs to be looked at in terms of how co-sleeping is. Many mothers and parents will basically admit to doing it, but not sort of not openly. I think it's certainly something again, go back to natural behavior.
You know, my father was brought up in the Gorbals of London in a very deprived area, and eight people slept in one bed. Yeah. So there's a possibility they were false or that those of us who didn't. And culturally there must be differences here. Is China more? Yeah, we are more.
Well, I can give you one example. My my own story. I had two kids for the first one I follow the Western rule. So no co-sleeping.
So the baby was always sleeping alone. And then the second one, we didn't follow this at all. And actually the second one was a preterm baby. But always I slept with him. And it seems that that he grew much better.
And you can't see you say this is a precaution anymore. So I don't know. That's my own experience or is somehow proves that there's probably this gentle touch or this tactile interaction would actually probably put you need to wait until they grow up, see the long term effect. Well, we looked actually one of my students had a just a simple questionnaire study asking adults who were born pre-term and we scull them on depression, event inventory and this thing called the autism quotient. The more preterm these adults were, the higher they scored on depression indices and autism spectrum, not at the clinical level.
There was a definite parametric relationship between who were born preterm and this their incidence of their scores on depression and autism and other aspects of touch. So it's an interesting avenue to explore the the experiments, if you like, have been done. Hopefully if we get touch placed back home, we may see a an attenuation of that those effects. Thank you for the electrifying talks.
I'm still wondering about the maybe mattress and the example of the rats be