Posted: September 7, 2015
Is it possible to effectively communicate tactile messages in a heuristic environment? The answer is yes, by using tele-haptic communication combined with gestural interaction in a proto-sculpting (‘making’) experience.
I have been making classical sculpture and working with materials for more than 20 years. I am also a technologist, and have been merging technology with my artwork for over a decade. I operate in the world of material interaction where my sense of touch is paramount and I see my sculptures as devices for communicating expression through the materials I have touched. I love and respect material properties. I push and pull them to see where we can go together. I learn about sculpting by way of making, and this iterative sculptural process fosters my own personal material literacy.
It has always amazed me that every new generation must continue to re-learn touch by way of independent personal experiences. I have often wanted to share my sculpting experiences with others so as to engage in a silent dialogue of haptic sensations. I found myself wondering if I could express the raw gestures and material interactions that I feel when sculpting. Yet, no technology exists to communicate real-time haptic sculptural expressions. Despite the lack of a mechanism for sharing touch experiences, sculptors have acquired personal tactile knowledge, and material literacy has somehow survived. This indicates to me an innate world of personal experience that I believe can be shared.
Machine assisted object modeling has exacerbated my problem by all but eliminating the human hand from material engagement. Semi-autonomous, computer numerically controlled, milling machines and three dimensional printers have replaced the guidance of my hand with the guidance of linear computer-controlled interfaces.
The central problem identified by this research project is that there exists a ‘hands-on’ haptics deficit in machine assisted creative object modeling technology.
Currently, computer controlled making machines do not facilitate the haptic feedback that is present in non-automated, hand-held or hand controlled tools. Real-time, hands-on haptic and tactile material interaction have not adapted to contemporary computer rendered object modeling processes. This may because the technology was not readily available until recently.
Imagine my frustration as a sculptor, when my hands cannot touch new ‘rapid prototyping’ tools while they render my creative objects. It seems strange to me that we integrate our eyes with digital image making technology, and we include our ear when making technology for composing sounds; but we eliminate the hand from new object making technology. Are classical sculptors being excluded from the contemporary object modeling technological revolution? Is the machine rendering my touch sense obsolete? Am I obsolete as a cultural producer? I would only believe the answer to these questions to be true if I did not know, in my heart and in my hands, about the incredible sensations hidden within the materials I sculpt. I want to share this remarkable feeling from hand to hand and heart to heart in the hopes that my inner knowledge can be expressed.
From the perspective of an artist turned art historian, “Elkins reminds us that there is a genuine human joy in making stuff. But little is written on this.” (p146) (1) We sculptors love making things and immersing ourselves in the material world. We shape the world into joyful expressions of material interaction. What kind of mechanism would I have to make to transmit material sensations from my hand to someone else’s hand? Would this mechanism facilitate experiences that could actually communicate the illusive tacit information? I want to build something that evokes the sense of touch and, therefore, my central research question is:
How can a sculptor heuristically communicate sculptural expressions from hand to hand?
This thesis introduces a hybrid technological innovation that I have developed. I call it ‘tele-haptic proto-sculpting’. I do not refer to traditional notions of ‘tele’ as the distance between two bodies in separate locations, but rather, the co-presence of multiple human and machine bodies sharing the same material-moment. My research project is designed to open up the field of interactive art and tele-haptic experience by combining prototyping and sculpture (‘proto-sculpting’). I attempt to apply haptics to expand ‘rapid prototyping’ to include real-time, iterative, machine assisted object modeling.
I hypothesize that it is possible to develop a tele-haptic proto-sculpting environment and facilitate touch communication of gestural and material interaction. In this thesis, I demonstrate that tactile and gestural information can be mechanically communicated between multiple actors by interfacing machine assisted object modeling with haptic feedback. To this end, I have developed interactive art-experiments, applying haptic feedback robotic technology to facilitate the sharing of new haptic sculptural experiences. I facilitate the expression of touch and uncover a new critical discourse highlighting material literacy in the technological arts.
This study focuses on haptic-tactile information as it relates to material engagement, specifically within subtractive sculpture. I will demonstrate how haptic feedback is used as a technological vehicle for communicating ‘touch’ messages, specifically by way of proprioception, from hand to hand. I will review remotely controlled, haptic feedback, human operated tele-robotics technology and show that haptic and robotic technology create the potential for sharing new haptic sculptural experiences.
I have the art-experimental goal of demonstrating a shared tactile, machine assisted, ‘hands-on’ material experience between myself and other people.
I will begin by presenting a conceptual and theoretical framework, providing a cultural context for my artworks. I will review several contemporary artists working with technology and the notions of tele and touch interactions. I will describe my creative journey and present the central study objects, ‘Art-Bot’, two art-experimentats with live participants in traditional gallery and public settings. I will report on the documented results of these experiments and demonstrate the achievement of tele-touch haptic interactions. Finally, I will share ideas on future directions for this research.
Full paper available soon. M Rauscher, “Haptic transference: A new haptic feedback robotic control interface,” in Electronics, Communications and Networks IV, 0 vols., CRC Press, 2015, pp. 1595–1597.
 “Robots Eating Apples | Special Issue.” [Online]. Available: http://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/5178. [Accessed: 30-Jul-2015].