Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Mark A. Minor, along with co-pi  John Hollerbach, received a $499,998, 3 year award from the National Science Foundation for “Cyber-Human Services (CHS): Small: Large Workspace Haptic Interaction for Mixed Reality Locomotion Interfaces”

The goal of this research it to develop a better understanding of how people interact with important objects from daily living, and then use this knowledge to design a robot and virtual reality (VR) system so people can experience these interactions in a simulated environment. Activities include pushing a cart; carrying or pulling a suitcase/briefcase; lifting and carrying a box; opening, closing, and walking through a door; operating a wheelbarrow; and using a case. The VR system provides 3D stereo images of the objects by projecting on the walls and floor of the VR system, a treadmill with a harness and tethers simulates walking, and robots imitate the objects. The robots will be designed to behave like the objects to provide a simulated sense of touching and interacting with the objects (e.g. haptics). In this case, users will walk up to these objects in the virtual world, grasp handles or knobs on the end of the robots that are merged with their graphical representation, and then operate the objects as they continue to walk through the virtual world. Some activities will be combined for two-handed operation. The robots and VR system will allow the user to interact with objects over a large area near the treadmill (e.g. a large workspace), which does not currently exist.

Studies with human subjects will be used to establish a library of the different objects and to evaluate the effectiveness of the final system. The library will be used to help design the robots and VR system. These activities provide a foundation for using VR for training first responders, providing therapists with new tools for treating health problems such as Parkinson’s Disease or stroke, and for creating new entertainment technology. The research contributes new robots, new VR models, and new control algorithms for achieving this large workspace haptic environment, which are each valuable to the scientific community. The research supports engineering and computer science students and will be used to encourage new students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math careers, which are important to our economy.