The PHANTOM Haptic Interface: A Device for Probing Virtual Objects
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02-10-2010, 10:33 AM

Thomas H. Massie and J. K. Salisbury.

This paper describes the PHANTOM haptic interface - a device which measures a user’s finger tip position
and exerts a precisely controlled force vector on the finger tip. The device has enabled users to interact with
and feel a wide variety of virtual objects and will be used for control of remote manipulators. This paper
discusses the design rationale, novel kinematics and mechanics of the PHANTOM. A brief description of the
programming of basic shape elements and contact interactions is also given.

A dominant focus in robotics research labs has traditionally been the development of autonomous systems -
those which operate without human supervision or interaction. However, robotic systems which are under
direct human control have begun to enjoy a resurgence of interest in recent years, in part due to advances in
robot and human interface technologies. These new interactive systems (telerobotic) promise to expand the
abilities of humans, by increasing physical strength, by improving manual dexterity, by augmenting the
senses, and most intriguingly, by project and implimentationing human users in to remote or abstract environments. In this paper
we focus on our work to develop a means for interacting with virtual mechanical objects; this is an important
stepping stone toward the development of enhanced remote manipulation systems in which simultaneous
interaction with real and virtual objects will be possible.

At the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, we have been developing haptic interface devices to permit touch
interactions between human users and remote virtual and physical environments. The Personal Haptic
Interface Mechanism, PHANTOM, has evolved as a result of this research (Massie, 1993). The PHANTOM is
a convenient desktop device which provides a force-reflecting interface between a human user and a
computer. Users connect to the mechanism by simply inserting their index finger into a thimble. The
PHANTOM tracks the motion of the user’s finger tip and can actively exert an external force on the finger,
creating compelling illusions of interaction with solid physical objects. A stylus can be substituted for the
thimble and users can feel the tip of the stylus touch virtual surfaces. By stressing design principals of low
mass, low friction, low backlash, high stiffness and good backdrivability we have devised a system capable of
presenting convincing sensations of contact, constrained motion, surface compliance, surface friction, texture
and other mechanical attributes of virtual objects.

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