During mechanical interaction with our environment, we derive a perceptual experience which may be compared to the experience that results from acoustic and optic stimulation. Progress has been made towards the discovery of mechanisms subserving the conscious experience of interacting with mechanical objects. This progress is due in part to the availability of new instruments that can tightly control mechanical stimulation of both the ascending, i.e. sensory, and descending, i.e. motor, pathways. The program describes the design of new mechanical stimulation delivery equipment capable of fine segregation of haptic cues at different length scales and different time scales so that controlled stimuli may be delivered with the ease and accuracy which is today possible when studying vision or audition. The purpose of this equipment is to disentangle and recombine the individual cues used by the brain to recover the attributes of an object, leading to the identification of the computations that must be performed to achieve a perceptual outcome. In vision and audition, much is known of the nature of the peripheral and central computations, but in touch, for lack of proper equipment, little is known. From this knowledge, I aim at developing a theory of haptic perception which rests on the observation that these computations are distributed in the physics of mechanical contact, in the biomechanics of the hand, including the skin, the musculoskeletal organization, innervation, and in central neural processes. This research program is rich in applications ranging from improved diagnosis of pathologies, to rehabilitation devices, to haptic interfaces now part of consumer products and virtual reality systems.
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