The project combines an LCD flat panel screen with force sensors and a robotic arm that moves it backwards and forwards to provide variable resistance.
Special glasses are used to augment the 3D effect created by changing the size and perspective of the images according to the movement.
Microsoft claims the system can simulate the shape and weight of objects shown on screen by controlling resistance to a user’s fingertips and adjusting the screen’s position to match a virtual object’s contours as fingers are moved over its surface.
In a demonstration that shows three virtual 3D boxes, each has different virtual weights and friction forces corresponding to their supposed material: stone, wood, and sponge.
The force feedback monitor responds to convey the sensation of different materials. The stone block “feels” hard to the touch and requires more force to push, while the sponge block is soft and easy to push.
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Proposed applications include enabling doctors to explore medical scans.
According to Microsoft, a doctor could navigate through the different slices of an MRI scan of a brain, for example, by pushing a finger against the display.
Researchers say such applications could be set up to give the user feedback when they touch anomalies, such as a tumour. The responses when touching soft tissue could also differ from those for hard tissue.
Other possible applications of the nascent technology include 3D modeling and 3D gaming. The researchers say the next step of the project will be aimed at improved feedback such as texture.