Photos by Gary Meek
Talk about good vibrations: Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a glove with a vibrating fingertip designed to improve your sense of touch. Sound counterintuitive? Test subjects reported a 10 to 15 percent boost in tactile sensitivity and motor performance, according to results that were presented at the 2011 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in May. The numbers are modest, to be sure, but they’re plenty significant for individuals whose jobs require high-precision dexterity (such as surgeons, fighter pilots, and assembly workers) or people whose responses to physical stimuli are impaired by illness or the environment.
Although a certain amount of white noise is known to enhance sight, hearing, touch, and balance, the Georgia Tech prototype is believed to be the first to incorporate the concept of stochastic resonance into a wearable device.
The device uses a small, battery-powered actuator that creates a high-frequency oscillation when it receives an electrical charge.
The device uses a small, battery-powered actuator, composed of layers of lead zirconate titanate, that creates a high-frequency oscillation when it receives an electrical charge. Associate professors Minoru Shinohara and Jun Ueda attached the actuator to the side of the fingertip, allowing the palm-side of the finger to remain exposed to touch objects.
After putting 10 healthy adult volunteers through a phalanx of sensing-ability tests to confirm their hypothesis. Shinohara and Ueda are now conducting experiments to determine the optimal amplitude and frequency, as well as the effect of long-term exposure to vibrations.
The technology is still in its nascent stages, but promising. Prurient minds may have other ideas for the device, but its goal is far nobler. “The future of this research may lead to the development of a novel orthopedic device that can help people with peripheral nerve damage resume their daily activities or improve the abilities of individuals with jobs that require skills in manipulation or texture discrimination,” Ueda says.