Lung-Pan Cheng

Human Actuation

Ever since the conception of the virtual reality headset in 1968, many researchers have argued that the next step in virtual reality is to allow users to not only see and hear, but also feel virtual worlds. One approach is to use mechanical equipment to provide haptic feedback, e.g., robotic arms, exoskeletons and motion platforms. However, the size and the weight of such mechanical equipment tends to be proportional to its target's size and weight, i.e., providing human-scale haptic feedback requires human-scale equipment, often restricting them to arcades and lab environments.
The key idea behind this dissertation is to bypass mechanical equipment by instead leveraging human muscle power. We thus create software systems that orchestrate humans in doing such mechanical labor-this is what we call human actuation. A potential benefit of such systems is that humans are more generic, flexible, and versatile than machines. This brings a wide range of haptic feedback to modern virtual reality systems.

We start with a proof-of-concept system - Haptic Turk, focusing on delivering motion experiences just like a motion platform. All Haptic Turk setups consist of a user who is supported by one or more human actuators. The user enjoys an interactive motion simulation such as a hang glider experience, but the motion is generated by those human actuators who manually lift, tilt, and push the user's limbs or torso. To get the timing and force right, timed motion instructions in a format familiar from rhythm games are generated by the system.

Next, we extend the concept of human actuation from 3-DoF to 6-DoF virtual reality where users have the freedom to walk around. TurkDeck tackles this problem by orchestrating a group of human actuators to reconfigure a set of passive props on the fly while the user is progressing in the virtual environment. TurkDeck schedules human actuators by their distances from the user, and instructs them to reconfigure the props to the right place on the right time using laser projection and voice output.

Our studies in Haptic Turk and TurkDeck showed that human actuators enjoyed the experience but not as much as users. To eliminate the need of dedicated human actuators, Mutual Turk makes everyone a user by exchanging mechanical actuation between two or more users. Mutual Turk's main functionality is that it orchestrates the users so as to actuate props at just the right moment and with just the right force to produce the correct feedback in each other's experience.

Finally, we further eliminate the need of another user, making human actuation applicable to single-user experiences. iTurk makes the user constantly reconfigure and animate otherwise passive props. This allows iTurk to provide virtual worlds with constantly varying or even animated haptic effects, even though the only animate entity present in the system is the user. Our demo experience features one example each of iTurk's two main types of props, i.e., reconfigurable props (the foldable board from TurkDeck) and animated props (the pendulum).

We conclude this dissertation by summarizing the findings of our explorations and pointing out future directions. We discuss the development of human actuation compare to traditional machine actuation, the possibility of combining human and machine actuators and interaction models that involve more human actuators.