Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Organic actuators as a tool for understanding the tactile sense: toward virtual medical touch

Project description

Haptic technology for virtual medical touch

Haptic technology exploits the sense of touch to control virtual objects, machines and electronic devices. Implementation of this technology in biomedical devices would significantly benefit a range of clinical diagnostic and surgical procedures. However, existing haptic actuators cannot recapitulate the action of biological structures. To this end, scientists of the EU-funded Rachel project will test a range of organic materials for their capacity to provide realistic tactile cues upon stimulation. They will also investigate many aspects related to the perception of touch including the underlying physical and cognitive mechanisms. Apart from fundamental knowledge, the new actuators will open the door towards improved haptic technologies in healthcare and wearable devices employed in physical and cognitive therapy.


The importance of the sense of touch in the biomedical sciences is difficult to overstate. Touch and palpation are critical for a range of clinical diagnostic and surgical procedures. The use of tactile feedback in virtual surgery may accelerate medical training and ultimately lead to superior patient outcomes. Technologies designed to manipulate the sense of touch are termed as “haptics”. In order to enable a future where haptics are used in biomedical devices, there is a need to answer fundamental questions arising from the sense of touch perception of humans, as well as to develop novel and smart materials that can transmit realistic tactile cues. One of the great challenges of existing—“off-the-shelf” —haptic actuators is that they are incapable of recapitulating the feeling of biological structures. In this proposal, I plan to adopt a new experimental paradigm based on organic materials (e.g. conductive polymers and liquid crystal elastomers) as haptic actuators capable of producing realistic tactile cues upon stimuli. In addition, fundamental questions related to the sensitivities and thresholds of human touch perception will be assessed for the first time using these materials in conjunction with psychophysical tests. Employing the expertise of the Lipomi lab in materials science and by collaboration with cognitive scientists, I will shed light on the physical and cognitive mechanisms underlying the perception of touch. This work will establish the design principles of organic actuators that may revolutionize technologies for remote care, such as for communities located in “healthcare deserts”, and wearable devices for physical and cognitive therapy.


Net EU contribution
€ 269 998,08
Other funding
€ 0,00

Partners (1)