The female form has inspired masterpieces of art and design for millennia. Today, it’s also inspired a group of Japanese engineers who wanted to teach medical students how to properly feel up a breast.
It’s a noble pursuit. More than half a million women die of breast cancer a year, but in the absence of real women volunteers, what’s a medical student being trained to detect lumps to do? Your average implant doesn’t exactly express the nuances of human, fatty tissue, and one can’t assume that all students have a baseline familiarity with breasts. That’s where the "multi-fingered haptic interface" robot comes in.
According to a report from IEEE Spectrum, the Gifu University researchers set out to tackle the complexity of experiencing touch in a virtual world. Individual fingertips have their own character and sensitivities, which lots of haptic interfaces don’t consider. The researchers write that both the force of the virtual object and the fingers have an impact on the sensation of softness.
Taking these factors into account, the Gifu University bot places all five fingertips on flexible gel sheets that can be manipulated by adjustable gears. The advantage of using this system, instead of, say, a regular silicon implant, is that lumps can be hidden again and again in various places. You can also adjust the model for different shapes and sizes of bosoms.
The advance in experiencing virtual softness doesn’t have to be limited to breasts, either. Perhaps surgeons or internists could one day use the device to feel a spleen without the help of a generous cadaver. Or, maybe this kind of technology could be integrated into future iterations of the Oculus Rift.