Background:

The Virtual Manipulation Laboratory (VML) was first established at the University of Wollongong by the Centre for Industrial Automation and Research (CIAR). Since its origin in 2000, the VML has advanced in response to arising research needs and opportunities. There are currently three staff and four PhD students associated with the laboratory. Infrastructure development has proceeded through a variety of funding sources. These include one ARC Large Discovery grant, one ARC Linkage grant, two RIBG Pool II grants, as well as contributions from CIAR and the Faculty of Informatics at the University of Wollongong. In addition, CRC in Intelligent Manufacturing and Technologies have provided two PhD scholarships. VML has partnership with Cochlear Ltd, Bionics Ear CRC and the University of Melbourne, Schools of Computer Science and Medicine.

Scope:

Research at VML is primarily focused on the manipulation of a virtual environment through haptic-rendered computer simulation. This is considered to be a powerful tool in the identification, analysis and design of a physical system. Computer simulation has been employed in the area of robotics and mechatronics, with application in both industry and medicine. Virtual environments can provide accurate visualization of such processes. At VML, the tactile and force information generated during manipulation between the manipulator and virtual object are also considered, making the user's sense of immersion into the virtual environment more realistic. This provides the human operator with both visual and tactile feedback during physical constrained motion manipulation.

Haptics:

Haptics is the application of force feedback to simulate kinaesthetic and tactile experiences. Development and implementation of a haptic-rendered simulation environment relies on two important elements; the haptic device and software for realization. A six degree-of-freedom (6DOF) PHANTOM (SensAble Technologies) device is used at VML to provide the user with a sense of touch for manipulation in the virtual environment. Haptic software generates both the visual representation of the manipulation and the appropriate torques and forces produced during the interaction. Currently, the GHOST software package (SensAble Technologies) allows for this development. Future developments may include a second haptic device with Reachin API (ReachinDirect) as the supporting software, on a dual processor PC. Such equipment and software would greatly improve haptic interaction capabilities, as well as dramatically speed up development time.