So much of the research and development in the area of haptic feedback focuses on universal devices that can create a wide range of tactile sensations. But that has proven to be a massive challenge, as it is very difficult to package the number of actuators necessary for that flexibility in a device that is practical for the consumer market. That’s why TactorBots — devised by researchers from University of Colorado’s ATLAS Institute and Parsons School of Design — sidesteps the issue with a complete toolkit of robotic touch modules.
TactorBots includes both software and hardware, with the hardware coming in several different modules. Each module is wearable on the user’s wrist and has a unique way of touching their arm. One Tactor module strokes the user’s arm, while another taps them. There are other Tactor modules for rubbing, shaking, squeezing, patting, and pushing. Because each module only needs to perform a single tactile motion, they can do their jobs very well. It is also possible to chain several modules together so the user can feel the different sensations across their arm.
Custom web-based software running on a PC controls the Tactor modules, activating them to match virtual on-screen content, through a host module built around an Arduino Nano board. That host module is also wearable on the arm. Each Tactor module has a servo motor that connects directly to the host module through standard JST wires. The module enclosures, along with the sensation-specific mechanisms, were all 3D-printed. The mechanisms differ based on the sensation they were designed to create, but they’re also simple and only require a single servo to operate.