The PneuMod Is a Specialized Haptic Feedback Device for Several Applications
As the need for remote work and interaction continues to get more pervasive, innovative strategies are now necessary to address the shortcomings in virtual meetings and games.
This is why University of California, Santa Barbara graduate student Bowen Zhang, with the help of his professor, Misha Sra, created a device which he calls the "PneuMod," as it combined pneumatically-driven haptic feedback in a modular form factor.
Better yet, each module contains a thermal unit too, meaning that both pressure and temperature can be conveyed to the wearer in a wide range of patterns.
Historically, pneumatic force-feedback systems have relied on a series of tubes and airbags that inflate and deflate in specific areas such as the hands or within a specialized jacket. In a similar manner, thermal haptic devices utilize tiny heaters and/or fans to warm or cool a user's skin in a particular pattern.
But by combining both of these techniques into a single, easy-to-wear system, wearers could experience a far greater range of information than would be possible otherwise.
Rather than circulating water of varying temperatures in different areas, Zhang's system consists of several individual actuators that each connect to an air compressor and have a Peltier element at their base.
Sending compressed air to a single actuator is achieved by using an Arduino Mega 2560 that receives commands from a laptop and activates the correct solenoid valve manifold accordingly. As for thermal control, the Mega takes in commands from the laptop and incoming sensor data.
Based on the values, the Peltier module's current can be reversed for a cooling effect or sent normally for heat.
Zhang arranged a set of eight actuators into a two-by-four grid and then ran a pre-programmed test to ensure they worked correctly. As expected, the modules inflated and deflated in the correct pattern, after which they were rolled into a sleeve and placed on a user's forearm.
From here, Zhang experiment further with how these modules could be configured, including ankle bracelets, wristbands, and even a headband.
Because of the flexible nature of these pressure and temperature haptic feedback modules, there is nearly a limitless number of ways they can be used to convey important information that would otherwise be lost in normal remote communication.
As a final test, Zhang set up a game in virtual reality that allowed him to interact with projectiles and opponents that could hit a humanoid model various places at differing levels of temperature. This gives game developers a whole new set of potential interactions the player can experience.