Tag Archives: touch screen

This is Reo sitting up by grasping ropes after lying on his back for 14 months following the onset of acute tetraparesis. Credit: Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University

How a touch screen helped a disabled chimpanzee walk again

This is Reo sitting up by grasping ropes after lying on his back for 14 months following the onset of acute tetraparesis. Credit: Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University

This is Reo sitting up by grasping ropes after lying on his back for 14 months following the onset of acute tetraparesis. Credit: Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University

In 2006, Reo the chimp became paralyzed from the neck down due to a spinal chord inflammation. But the chimp fought back and was able to recover enough to stand up and, later, pull himself upright using suspended ropes. There was still a matter of regaining the function of his legs, though. Gently and with a lot of patience, researchers of the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University devised a novel physiotherapy that enabled Reo to walk using his feet ten years later.

Like most chimps from the Institute, Reo is well versed in using a touch screen to solve cognitive tasks. As a reward, he would receive a tasty treat. Although Reo had not used touch screens following his disability, Yoko Sakuraba of Kyoto University and colleagues tried using computerized tasks to help the chimp regain the function of his legs.

The setup was very simple. A tablet computer was placed on the surface of a wall in the lab where Reo had to perform some cognitive tasks, just like the old days. But instead of having the reward readily served after the task was ever, the food was placed on a tray in the opposite end of the room.

Final layout of the rehabilitation room. White represents the area used by humans, and grey represents the area used by the chimpanzee. a Thin lines represent walls made of acrylic board and iron frames, bold lines represent walls made of concrete, and dotted lines represent wire grid walls or partitions. Credit: Journal Primates

Final layout of the rehabilitation room. White represents the area used by humans, and grey represents the area used by the chimpanzee. a Thin lines represent walls made of acrylic board and iron frames, bold lines represent walls made of concrete, and dotted lines represent wire grid walls or partitions. Credit: Journal Primates

At first, the chimp would not cooperate, but the researchers were just as stubborn. They changed the setup seven times until Reo was comfortable enough to attempt to solve the puzzles on the computer screen. And so Reo ended up completing multiple tasks, then moved two meters to pick his food, only to move two meters more to return to his station.

During his first travel, the chimp moved by clinging to a stationary rope, but gradually Reo learned to move in an upright seated position which resembled the side-to-side manner of a penguin walking on land. After many, many rehabilitation sessions Reo was eventually able to walk for up to 500 meters during two-hour long sessions.

“Cognitive tasks may be a useful way to rehabilitate physically disabled chimpanzees, and thus improve their welfare in captivity,” says Sakuraba.

The story is indeed touching because it shows our primate cousins have at least just as much determination to regain bodily functions as humans do. This is important because it shifts the animal care paradigm, which in such situations advises euthanasia. Dr. Sakuraba says many disabled primates, and perhaps non-primates too, could use this treatment aided by humans to regain movement. She cautions, however, that just like for humans, this operation needs to be custom tailored to the needs and personalities of the patient.

“This study successfully applied a new method of walking rehabilitation using cognitive tasks to a chimpanzee with hind-limb disabilities. In particular, total distance walked increased, and the chimpanzee voluntarily participated in the process. Though Reo initially appeared fearful of the touch monitor and stopped several times during the walking rehabilitation sessions, careful adjustments resolved this problem, leading to the conclusion that personality and physical condition need to be considered when designing and adjusting a rehabilitation program. In addition, this was the first successful rehabilitation method to encourage walking and customized for a chimpanzee, Reo. In the future, we will need to continue rehabilitation exercises, and discuss goals for his continued improvement and well-being,” the authors wrote in the Journal Primates. 

Prototype tactile recording and display system for real-time reproduction of touch (credit: UCSD)

Next level user-interface tech: recording and rendering human touch

Prototype tactile recording and display system for real-time reproduction of touch (credit: UCSD)

Prototype tactile recording and display system for real-time reproduction of touch (credit: UCSD)

Since touch screen interfaces have been introduced on mass scale the way people interact with technology has been arguably revolutionized. Still, there is much more to be explored in how the sense of touch can be manipulated to enrich user interaction with tech. Recording and relaying back information pertaining to the sense of sound (audio files) or sight (photo, video files) has been successfully incorporated in technology for more than a century now. The other senses, however, seem to have been bypassed by the digital revolution, in part because they’re so much more difficult to reproduce. This might change in the future, ultimately leading to user interfaces that offer a complete, real-life experience that stimulates all human senses.

A recent research by scientists at University of California, San Diego explores the sense of touch in user interfaces. The researchers devised a set-up comprised of sensors and sensor arrays capable of electronic recording and playback of human touch. The researchers envision  far-reaching implications for health and medicine, education, social networking, e-commerce, robotics, gaming, and military applications, among others.

In their recently demonstrated prototype, an 8 × 8 active-matrix pressure sensor array made of transparent zinc-oxide (ZnO) thin-film transistors (TFTs) records the contact touch and pressure produced by the finger tips of an user. The eletrical signal is then sent to a PC, which processes the data and from there to a tactile feedback display, which used an 8 × 8 array of diaphragm actuators made of an acrylic-based dielectric elastomer with the structure of an interpenetrating polymer network (IPN). The polymer actuators playback the initial touch recorded by the ZnO TFTs, as they can dynamically shape the force and level of displacement by adjusting both the voltage and charging time.

“One of the critical challenges in developing touch systems is that the sensation is not one thing. It can involve the feeling of physical contact, force or pressure, hot and cold, texture and deformation, moisture or dryness, and pain or itching. It makes it very difficult to fully record and reproduce the sense of touch,” the researchers write in the paper documenting their work, published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports

In addition to simply playing back touch, the touch data can be stored in memory and replayed at a later time or sent to other users. “It is also possible to change the feeling of touch, or even produce synthesized touch by varying temporal or spatial resolutions,” said Deli Wang, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering and senior author . “It could create experiences that do not exist in nature.”

The technology is still in its incipient form, so it’s better to view the scientists’ work as a proof of concept instead of a complete solution. The technology needs to be drastically improved to reproduce all the intricate parameters that influence the sense of touch, yet this work signals that we’re on our way there. What about smell and taste? Well, that should be really interesting to see. [READ: Music for the nose: the olfactory organ]

  • Siarhei Vishniakou et al., Tactile Feedback Display with Spatial and Temporal Resolutions, Scientific Reports, 2013, DOI: 10.1038/srep02521 (open access)