Research Concerning Theoretical Development and Experimental Validation of Reconfigurable Haptic Interfaces for Virtual Reality (ReHaPy)

Summary

Virtual Reality (VR) has more and more applications also in production engineering such as computer aided design (CAD), virtual prototyping, virtual commissioning, virtual assembly and much more. Conventionally monitors, keyboard and mouse are used for interaction with the VR, but novel VR methods require novel VR interaction techniques. Haptic interfaces can be defined as dual interfaces (both input and output) that provide force feedback to the movements of the user or vice versa. In other words, defined as an analogy to visual interfaces, vision is to light as haptics is to touch. Using haptic interfaces the user (operator, designer, etc.) can not only see, but can also feel (touch) the VR environment.

Many publications underline the benefits of using haptic devices in different production engineering related applications like virtual assembly task, virtual manufacturing, virtual prototyping and virtual maintenance. These novel interfaces make working with VR more comfortable and convenient. In virtual assembly haptic interfaces are used to better predict manual assembly times and to reduce assembly time by optimizing assembly paths. Rapid virtual prototyping of knob types using haptic feedback is a cost efficient method of human in the loop testing. Haptic devices complete the interaction while using novel VR methods for production engineering with force feedback, this way making the VR tangible, and making the work of the engineer more efficient.

The development of a haptic interface, which can be applied in various scenarios, opens new directions of research in production engineering. Novel method of industrial robot programming using virtual teaching technique can be researched. Research concerning the training of workers for different manufacturing and/or assembly processes, where human error can lead to major damage, can be carried out partly using VR, reducing costs this way.

Reconfigurable systems, based on their modularity property, fulfill varying requirements economically. A reconfigurable haptic interface will have the advantage that it can fulfill the varying requirements of different VR interaction scenarios cost-effectively.

Novel real-time simulation methods permit the simulation of collisions with reduced computational power. In order to fully use the potential of haptic interfaces they conventionally need to be connected to VR environments, with high computation power, where the dynamics of the virtual world are simulated in real time. When considering haptics just a part of the calculations of the virtual world are necessary, most importantly collision simulations. Collisions simulated in the control architecture of the haptic interface make possible the exploitation of the full potential of a haptic interface without a need for expensive VR environments with high computational power.

This project proposes the research and development of a reconfigurable haptic interface that includes real-time collision simulation in its control system. To achieve these goals the knowledge of multiple disciplines are needed. Mechanical structure and control systems are from mechatronics and robotics domain, while VR and real-time simulations belong to the cybernetics domain.