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Technology to add ‘feel’ to online shopping November 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Internet, Science.

Online shoppers could soon be able to ‘feel’ the materials of the clothes they want to buy, according to a group of researchers.

A team at the University of Geneva is working on a European Union funded IST project that aims to develop the technology that will help these shoppers ‘touch’ garments such as sweaters, suits and lingerie before they add them to their online baskets.

The technology used is known as haptics from the Greek word haptikos which means ‘able to touch’. Haptics is gaining widespread acceptance as a key component in virtual-reality systems, adding the sense of touch to what was once a visual-only solution.

Most existing solutions use stylus-based haptic rendering; this is where the user interfaces with the virtual world using a tool such as a stylus, giving a form of interaction that is computationally realistic on today’s computers.

With the Geneva IST Haptex project, both the visual simulation and the haptic rendering are based on the real physical properties of the textile, as measured at the source.

The project team’s final goal is to integrate two different haptic technologies: a device which can ‘feel’ the kinesthetic forces acting on the simulated virtual fabric, and tactile arrays on two fingertips to show the vibrotactile stimulations on the surface of the simulated fabric.

Currently, there is no comparable system either on the market or in the development stage. To integrate the visual and haptic/tactile interfaces, several significant advances in existing technology are necessary before the virtual experience can come close to simulating a real physical touch.

However, the Geneva team has developed a preliminary demonstrator that could eventually be used to develop tools for shoppers.

“We are investigating how far it is possible to provide a user with a completely reliable sense of fabric through a virtual experience,” said project co-ordinator Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann of the University of Geneva.

Their goal is to achieve, by project close in November 2007, a visual representation of virtual textiles with a haptic/tactile interface, which will allow users to ‘feel’ the virtual garment.

The project will present its results so far at this year’s IST conference which runs from 21 to 23 November in Helsinki. Visitors to the project stand will be able to see on a laptop a realistic simulation of a textile and interact with it through a haptic interface. This will provide them with a realistic simulation of touching the real textile.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to select different virtual textiles, modify their physical properties interactively, then “see and feel the effects of the changes”.

They will be able to discover haptic feedback, a highly innovative technology that has not yet reached the popular domain.

“They will feel the force-feedback of the fabric when interacting with it,” Magnenat-Thalmann said.

Related Links > http://europa.eu.int/information_society/istevent/2006/index_en.htm

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