Summary: Study sheds light on the human ability to understand how an object moves inside a container, revealing how different kinds of information can be conveyed via the sense of touch.
Source: McGill University
We shake cereal boxes and milk cartons to figure out if there is enough for breakfast. We can easily tell if there is enough toothpaste left in the tube, or if we have enough vitamin tablets left in a bottle. For these actions, we rely on our sense of touch (and hearing).
New research led by Ilja Frissen, Associate Professor in McGill’s School of Information Studies, with Professor Catherine Guastavino, demonstrates a natural human ability to understand how an object moves inside a container, providing new insights into the different kinds of information that can be conveyed through the sense of touch.
In the future, Frissen said, understanding how people can decipher the hidden contents of a container could help create a more natural and comprehensive communication between humans and machines, such as smart devices, as well as educational simulation tools and accessibility technologies for those with visual impairments.
Researchers created a set of five fiberglass tubes that contained a metal ball that could move between two internal walls.
Seventeen people participated in this perceptual study. They were asked to figure out how far the ball had rolled inside the tube.
In a second experiment, researchers used virtual reality technology to simulate and isolate the various physical cues that occur, such as the ball rolling along a surface or bouncing off an internal wall.
“We found that our participants, who received no particular training, were surprisingly accurate in doing this curious task. And thanks to the virtual reality technology we were able to start piecing together how the various physical cues played a role,” Frissen said.
EXPRESS: Humans sense by touch the location of objects that roll in handheld containers
Humans use active touch to gain behaviourally relevant information from their environment, including information about contained objects. While most common, the perceptual basis of interacting with containers remains largely unexplored.
The first aim of this study was to determine how accurately people can sense, by touch only, the location of a contained rolling object.
Experiment 1 used tubes containing physical balls and demonstrated a considerable degree of accuracy in estimating the rolled distance.
The second aim was to identify the relative effectiveness of the various available physical cues.
Experiment 2 employed virtual reality technology to present, in isolation and in various combinations, the constituent haptic cues produced by a rolling ball, which are, the mechanical noise during rolling, the jolts from an impact with an internal wall, and the intensity and timing of the jolts resulting from elastic bounces.
The rolling noise was of primary importance to the perceptual estimation task suggesting that the implementation of the laws of motion is based on an analysis of the ball’s movement velocity.
While estimates became more accurate when the rolling and impact cues were combined, they were not necessarily more precise.
The presence of elastic bounces did not affect performance.