CHARM LAB Main/Research


This page describes some of our ongoing research projects. Publicly available data and software from this work are available at our Resources page

Design and Control of Haptic Systems

The word haptics means related to the sense of touch. In psychology and neuroscience, haptics is the study of human touch sensing, specifically via kinesthetic (force/position) and cutaneous (tactile) receptors, associated with perception and manipulation. In robotics and virtual reality, haptics is broadly defined as real and simulated touch interactions between robots, humans, and real, remote, or simulated environments, in various combinations. We develop specialized robotic devices and their corresponding control, known as haptic interfaces, that allow human operators to experience the sense of touch in remote (teleoperated) or simulated (virtual) environments. (Note that haptics is an important part of many of the other research topics on this page, so this section is designed to describe various projects not included elsewhere.)

Teleoperation and Haptics for Surgery

Image copyright Intuitive Surgical, Inc.

Robots have many capabilities that humans do not, including improved precision, visualization, dexterity, and lack of fatigue. Despite these advantages, current clinical teleoperated surgical systems do not make good use of haptic (touch) feedback. We are interested in finding ways to convey environmental force information to device users using both cutaneous and kinesthetic feedback cues. Additionally, we want to find ways to have robots palpate tissue, and use machine learning techniques to classify the tissue based on mechanical properties.

Robot-Assisted Percutaneous Interventions

Image courtesy V. Duindam

Percutaneous interventions involve the insertion of very thin, often flexible, tools though the skin to reach a target either within a solid organ or in the vasculature. Unpredictable tool-tissue interactions, poor imaging, and inherent challenges in the control of these flexible tools make manual percutaneous interventions difficult. Our work aims to improve the success of these procedures though the development of novel robotic systems to enable more accurate targeting, more intuitive manual control methods, and increased tool accessibility and visibility.

Human Motor Performance and Adaptation in Robot-Assisted Surgery

We study how surgical teleoperator characteristics and level of user expertise change human motor performance, adaptation, and learning, for the purpose of developing scientifically motivated guidelines for robot design, control, and training methods. This study is performed in collaboration with Prof. Michael Hsieh, Urology Department, Stanford University, and Lucile Packard Children Hospital.

Rehabilitation Robotics

When neurological disorders result in motor impairment, rehabilitation therapy is used to restore lost strength, muscle coordination, and range of motion. Compared to traditional therapy, robot-aided intervention enables more frequent and intensive therapy, improves diagnostic measures, and allows movement with varying degrees of autonomy. Using robotics, our aim is to study reaching in controls and patients, characterize motor learning in virtual environments, and develop patient-specific control strategies for rehabilitation. Our HAPI Bands project could also be used to guide patients' motion for rehabilitation applications.

Haptics for Neuroprosthetics

Neuroprosthetic devices, such as brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), represent a new way to interact with and control the physical environment. Current BCI systems only provide visual feedback to users. Haptic feedback could provide additional information for more accurate, efficient, and intuitive control. By providing appropriate haptic feedback to those using BCIs, it may be possible to decrease the training time required to operate the device, as well as improve the device’s performance. Our ultimate goal is to design haptic technology to aid individuals paralyzed by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) who rely on intracortical BCIs to interact with the world around them. In this effort, we will collaborate with the Neural Prosthetics Translational Laboratory at Stanford, which is involved in the nationwide BrainGate2 project.

Educational Haptics

A major benefit of educational robotics is its hands-on nature. This makes the learning process more compelling for most students, and underscores the connection between science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) theory and physical reality. Educational haptics takes this premise a step further: haptic devices that provide force and tactile feedback to the student are programmed to generate physical interactions that improve student intuition for STEM subjects. Haptic devices also emphasize the need for interdisciplinary robotics education, and can inspire even very young students to enter STEM fields. We have used a variety of methods to incorporate haptic devices and simulations into undergraduate, graduate, and grade school curricula.