Enabling wearable soft tactile displays with dielectric elastomer actuators
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Touch is one of the less exploited sensory channels in human machine interactions. While the introduction of the tactile feedback would improve the user experience in several fields, such as training for medical operators, teleoperation, computer aided design and 3D model exploration, no interfaces able to mimic accurately and realistically the tactile feeling produced by the contact with a real soft object are currently available. Devices able to simulate the contact with soft bodies, such as the human organs, might improve the experience. The existing commercially available tactile displays consist of complex mechanisms that limit their portability. Moreover, no devices are able to provide tactile stimuli via a soft interface that can also modulate the contact area with the finger pad, which is required to realistically mimic the contact with soft bodies, as needed for example in systems aimed at simulating interactions with virtual biological tissues or in robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery. The aim of this thesis is to develop such a wearable tactile display based on the dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs). DEAs are a class of materials that respond to an electric field producing a deformation. In particular, in this thesis, the tactile element consists of a so-called hydrostatically coupled dielectric elastomer actuator (HC-DEAs). HC-DEAs rely on an incompressible fluid that hydrostatically couples a DEA-based active part to a passive part interfaced to the user. The display was also tested within a closed-loop configuration consisting of a hand tracking system and a custom made virtual environment. This proof of concept system allowed for a validation of the abilities of the display. Mechanical and psychophysical tests were performed in order to assess the ability of the system to provide tactile stimuli that can be distinguished by the users. Also, the miniaturisation of the HC-DEA was investigated for applications in refreshable Braille displays or arrays of tactile elements for tactile maps.
- Theses