The University of Utah was selected to host the 2009 World Haptics Conference this March in downtown Salt Lake City. The third annual conference is a joint event between the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Haptics Symposium and Eurohaptics. Professor John Hollerbach of the U of U School of Computing served as general chair of the event, with help from faculty in Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science.

“World Haptics is the premiere international conference on haptics research,” says William Provancher, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Haptics refers to the sense of touch. In engineering, haptics is the study of artificial touch technologies.

To kick-off the conference, engineering and computing faculty provided an open house of the robotics labs at the U of U for conference participants. Tours and demonstrations included autonomous ground vehicles, a virtual reality treadmill, roving robots for exploring planets, educational devices and demos for teaching haptics, an omni-directional wheelchair, wireless magnetic biomedical microrobots, and climbing robots.

At the conference Provancher’s team took home a Best Paper Award for the paper, “A Fingertip Shear Tactile Display for Communicating Direction Cues.” Provancher and graduate students Brian Gleeson and Scott Horschel won for their work on a tactile feedback device that communicates direction through stretching the skin of the fingertip. The team also entered a second paper, “Communication of Direction through Lateral Skin Stretch at the Fingertip,” for work on a wirelessly controlled portable device worn on the fingertip, which also communicates direction through stretching the skin of the fingertip.

Other paper submissions by University of Utah teams included, “Stretchable Fingernail Sensors for Measurement of Fingertip Force” by graduate students Jumana Abu-Khalaf, Jung Woo Park, and Mechanical Engineering Professors Debra Mascaro and Stephen Mascaro; and “3-D Force Control on the Human Fingerpad Using a Magnetic Levitation Device for Fingernail Imaging Calibration” by Hollerbach, Mascaro, and graduate students Thomas Grieve and Yu Sun.

Read more information on haptics research at

Visit the Department of Mechanical Engineering Biorobotics Lab website at