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Abstract This chapter will introduce the research work described in this book. The final output of the research work is a new concept of a desktop Tactile Shape Display. This device allows the designer to perform the tactile evaluation of the virtual model of the products they are creating in real time. In particular, we will describe the hypothesis and the starting point of the research.

Digital tools for shape creation and evaluation, such as computer aided styling tools, are nowadays largely used in the product design process, even if these tools are strictly related to the visual aspect of the product shape.

However, designers are more inclined to evaluate the shape of their products by means of the sense of touch. Indeed, they need to physically interact with the evolving shapes of the products they are designing in order to check and evaluate aesthetic features of their products in a natural and intuitive way. Therefore, physical representations of the product to interact with are a necessary part of the design process. This process begins with the ideation of the product concept, which is represented by hand drawings and sketches (Fig. 1.1). These are used to create digital models of the products that allow the designer to perform the visual evaluation of the shape and its aesthetic characteristics. After that, in order to allow designers to perform the physical interaction, which is fundamental to evaluate by touch the product shape, a physical prototype of the conceived product is created. These real representations enable the designers to check the aesthetic features of the products and, if not satisfied, they have to go back to the modelling phase in order to modify the product shape.

This process has to be performed in an iterative loop, until the shape is fully satisfactory. Before reaching a final product representation, several loops are carried out and, therefore, several physical prototypes are developed during the design process. Moreover, each time a physical mock-up is required for evaluating the product design, the design process halts, waiting for the building up of the physical prototype. This iterative loop causes a bigger impact in the design process, in particular as regards development time and costs.

To overcome this issue, it is possible to move backward the tactile evaluation in order to allow the designers to perform it simultaneously with the modelling phase © The Author(s) 2017

A. Mansutti et al., Tactile Display for Virtual 3D Shape Rendering, PoliMI SpringerBriefs, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-48986-5_1

Product design main phases

Fig. 1.1 Product design main phases

From the flexible curvilinear tool to the tactile display

Fig. 1.2 From the flexible curvilinear tool to the tactile display

and the visual evaluation. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to develop a system capable to render in real-time the shape of the digital model. The research community has developed several solutions and some of them have also been developed as commercial devices. However, the majority of these devices are based on point- based interaction, or are able to allow users to interact with virtual surfaces only with a single finger, or are able to render only small portions of virtual shapes. All these interfaces are useful in order to allow the user interacting with virtual surfaces while they cannot be considered as suitable for shape evaluation focused on aesthetic value.

Indeed, designers prefer performing the tactile evaluation by exploring the product shape sliding their fingers on the surface. Starting from this concept the research KAEMaRT Group, where the author Alessandro Mansutti has conducted his PhD studies, has developed the SATIN system (developed in the framework of the EU- IST-FP6 SATIN project), which is equipped with a tactile interface that allows a continuous free-hand interaction. However, this system has some limits and drawbacks, which make difficult its adoption in design studios.

The aim of my research works is to develop a novel tactile display that will allow performing tactile evaluation directly during the modelling process and, therefore, together with the visual evaluation phase. The device will be based on the attitude of the designers to explore the shape of their products along trajectories as happens when they use flexible curvilinear strip, as shown in Fig. 1.2.

The design of this new system will be focused on the main characteristics needed in order to obtain a device that can be used also by small design studios or by a single user. Therefore, we designed the tactile display in order to obtain a device that will have the following features:

  • • Portable and desktop;
  • • Low cost;
  • • Customisable;
  • • Ensures high performance rendering.

The portability characteristic will ensure to obtain a device that will be usable directly on a common desk as the workstations of the design studios, and the low- cost feature will allow obtaining an affordable system, which could be adopted in the designers everyday working life. As regards the customisation aspect, which is needed to adapt the system to the user needs, it will be obtained by means of a modular approach during the system design. Finally, as regards the rendering performance, which is the most important aspect of the system, we will develop the tactile display in order to obtain a system able to render trajectories with curvature radii with values lower than the currently available devices.

In order to perform simultaneously the visual and tactile evaluations it will be possible to use the tactile display together with the commonly used visualisation systems, such as PC/laptop monitors. However, as we will explain in the following chapters, it will be possible to integrate the tactile display with the Augmented Reality technology, which will allow creating a more immersive working condition.

The resulting system will allow achieving the following main expected benefits:

  • • To reduce the time needed for the design process;
  • • To reduce the number of physical prototypes to create, thus decreasing the design process costs;
  • • To allow more time for designers to research on styling issues, so as to obtain better quality of results;
  • • To increase aesthetic perception of shapes;
  • • To provide possibility of producing variants of style in a very short time.

Document Structure

The book is organized as follows:

  • • Chapter2: presents the Related Works in the field of tactile systems;
  • • Chapter3: illustrates the research context and the system requirements;
  • • Chapter4: explains the conceptual development of the tactile device;
  • • Chapter5: presents the first version of the modular solution based on indirect actuation system;
  • • Chapter6: describes the second version of the modular solution based on direct actuation system, which will be adopted as final solution;
  • • Chapter7: describes the obtained results for what concerns the tactile display;
  • • Chapter8: introduces the integration of the tactile display with the Augmented Reality visualisation system;
  • • Chapter9: presents conclusion and future works.
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