Haptic Force and Position Feedback in Virtual Reality


Partnered with HaptX, an industry leader in haptics and Virtual Reality (VR), the ForceBot team is a diverse collaboration of VT engineers with interest and experience in virtual reality, robotic control, sensory feedback, ergonomics, and human factors fields. The project proposes the design, construction, and assessment of a VR cobot to simulate physical interaction with virtual objects at the user's hands and feet. ForceBot incorporates robot-based active haptic simulations, allowing the study of how this growing technology enables the cobot to adapt to a variety of tasks, environments, and users. The system's effectiveness will be tested through various static and dynamic force application tasks and assessed by a VR effectiveness psychological questionnaire and thorough biomechanical and statistical analyses. The results of this study will not only help to improve the immersion and realism of VR simulation, but will also have an impact on future human-robot interaction studies. ForceBot will provide a valuable platform to examine safety and performance of human-robot systems, especially wearable robotics and exoskeletons used in industry, along with the control strategies for said systems.
The figure above shows the proposed system, consisting of four collaborative robotic arms whose end-effectors interact with the user's hands and feet, the points of interest in the study. The upper body exoskeleton that will be used in the project is a prototype previously developed by the Eichermueller team. The user will wear commercial hand exoskeletons developed by HaptX while performing various tasks involving static and dynamic force applications, ranging from simple linear motions using one arm to complex linear/rotational motions using the whole body.
VR simulations have recently become crucial to studying human-robot interaction. For example, it is a valuable tool for design engineers to consider the safety risks associated with humans wearing or interacting closely with a robot. VR is also used to train employees in industry how to collaborate with robots. In these scenarios, the ability to make the user feel like they are physically interacting with a virtual object is extremely important. This is where haptic feedback, a common means of increasing the sense of immersion and realism of a VR simulation, becomes useful. Haptic technology ranges from passive, where physical objects align with virtual objects, to active, where robotics are used to apply tactile and force feedback to the user. Active haptics have the potential to create a greater variety of sensations, useful in many different applications. Therefore, active haptics is the focus of current research, including the ForceBot project. Exoskeletons are one possible source of active haptic force feedback in VR receiving a lot of attention in current research. The study of exoskeletons provides an important insight into human-robot interaction, with applications ranging from rehabilitation to the augmentation of workers in industry. Our project, ForceBot, incorporates an upper body exoskeleton into a novel system to study interactive, full-body force feedback in a virtual environment. ForceBot builds on previous robotic control work by the Virginia Tech TREC lab involving whole-body-control and force feedback, along with multi-objective optimization controls techniques. Serving as a testbed for future exoskeleton control strategy development and assessment, ForceBot will also drastically reduce the cost of prototyping with its versatile ability to simulate the force and position trajectories of various systems. Applications of Forcebot include the design and safe implementation/training of human-robot systems in industry. Overall, the ForceBot project will facilitate the advancement of virtual reality, robotic control, sensory feedback, ergonomics, and human factors fields.


Alexander Leonessa

Professor, Mechanical Engineering Department

Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24060

Divya Srinivasan

Professor, Industrial Engineering and Bioengineering Department

Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634

Jing Du
Associate Professor, Civil and Coastal Engineering Department

University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611

Michael Eichermueller

Director of R&D, HaptX