New Blog - Haptic

The Magic Touch Of Haptic Technology

What is ‘Haptic’ technology

The distinguished science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” and Haptics, as one of today’s most innovative digital solutions, would most certainly have been classed as witchcraft in less enlightened times.

Haptics is the science of transmitting information about our surroundings through the sense of touch.

Haptic technology creates the illusion of real physical contact with objects and motion in a virtual world. This makes the experience more realistic than just relying on the sounds you would get from wearing headphones or the images on a screen.  

How does it work?

Haptic technology works by manipulating ultrasonic sound waves with an ultrasonic transducer. The transducer incorporates synthetic crystals which vibrate and produce sound waves when voltage is applied, and the voltage can be increased to produce ultrasonic sound waves, which cannot normally be heard by humans, and then converts those waves into another form of energy.

By changing the amplitude and phase of the ultrasounds, the waves can be focused on one particular point in midair.

The ultrasonic waves are modulated to vibrate at a frequency around 300 Herz, and that creates a high-pressure level that you can actually feel on your skin.

Early uses of haptics included moving or vibrating cinema seats to synchronise with an earthquake, explosion or natural disaster happening on the cinema screen, and wearable technology that you could plug into your television set which converted certain audio frequencies into vibrations you could feel in your body.

If you slide your finger along a particular surface, for example, glass or wood, you can feel the texture of the material by the vibrations it produces. Haptic technology can recreate that in midair by the appropriate wave modulations, creating not just the sense of touch but also the sense of texture.

Modern haptic applications take the form of physical actuators that can vibrate in precise ways, and which mimic buttons or other illusory objects which you can push or slide. An actuator is a machine component, activated by an energy signal, which moves and controls a particular mechanism, for example, opening or closing a valve.

These actuators can ’fool’ your fingers into thinking they are pushing a button or using a mouse wheel or trackball to move around a screen, whereas in reality, the actual surface they are touching is smooth. In the virtual world, developments could include the feel of picking up a heavy object or ‘feeling’ the recoil from a gun.

Haptic technology is being used to put more reality into virtual reality, particularly when it is incorporated into wearable technology such as headsets, body vests and gloves. Several kinds of haptic gloves have been developed, using physical actuators and air pockets in individual fingers to give you the sensation of moving around and touching things in virtual reality.  

Haptic technology in the post-Covid world

Advances in science and technology are centre stage right now, helping us to emerge from the death-grip paralysis of the Covid-19 pandemic.

From virtual ‘zoom’ get-togethers to remote working and online shopping, technology has played a crucial role in keeping us functional during the lockdowns and restrictions on our lives.

All of these changes we have all had to deal with have demonstrated the vital importance of businesses becoming more aware of digital and technological solutions and creating the right infrastructure to stay competitive in the post-Covid world.

Many more Haptic applications are now being explored across all industry sectors and are set to transform the way we use many everyday items.

Revolutionising design

Haptics will change the way designers create physical objects.

With the power of touch, they can change a layout or design by touching and moving a component to a different position. It will be almost like working with virtual clay, so using haptics they can sculpt the material into the desired shape. In the early design stage, they would be able to use a haptic ‘tool’ alongside their CAD-generated digital data, to ensure that they would be able to repair a component or mechanism in a machine’s interior, without taking the whole machine apart.

Designers working with 3D models will be able to use haptic gloves to allow potential customers to feel a prototype product modelled on screen, or even as an augmented reality hologram actually in front of them.  

More tactile driving

The automotive industry is already utilising this technology as a way to provide a more informed and intuitive driving experience, where drivers can control the car’s systems and feel the road by using haptic sensors.

Cars are being made ‘smarter’ which means they can understand their surroundings and react to perceived threats and dangers by giving warnings or alerts. Haptics can be used to create a vibration in the steering wheel when a driver needs to take a particular action, such as signalling for a lane change.  

Medical applications

The effects of various forms of disability could be mitigated.

For example, blind and partially sighted people could benefit from receiving detailed information about the world around them.

In the field of surgery, haptics can simulate different tissue densities, so surgeons could perform an operation ‘remotely’ by using haptic robot arms which can mimic the feeling of the patient’s body and the part being operated upon.

Medical students could practice a procedure many times before undertaking a real operation. A supervising or senior surgeon would not need physically to be present in the operating room, and that concept alone has profound implications for healthcare costs and procedures.

Broader implications

Using the principles of Haptic technology, kinaesthetic interfaces are also being developed with far-reaching ramifications for how we live and work. Kinaesthetic sensation relates to how you move your body and what you encounter as you move.

For example, instead of navigating a screen to access information, or using a remote control, the user could just wave their hand in the air. They would feel the ultrasound sensor which could initiate an action, such as changing the temperature in a room or skipping a song on a digital music device.

Work on developing new technologies such as Haptics has accelerated throughout the pandemic, and these will have significant effects on how we live, work, educate or entertain ourselves, produce goods and do business in the future.

news blog - AI

Solutions Powered By AI And Digital Technologies

The UK is ranked as one of the most innovative countries in the world and is at the forefront of developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Digital Technology.

AI gives machines the capacity to mimic human reasoning by learning from experiences and performing tasks in a similar way to a human being, and new AI applications are being developed every day. Many companies believe that AI will underpin the biggest technological advances and innovations over the next few years, fostering the fourth industrial revolution.

The increased use of modern, ‘smart’ technology in the automation of manufacturing and communications processes is changing how we live and work, from medical diagnoses to playing video and board games.

Potentially, AI could bring immense benefits to SMEs, saving manpower and time. Artificial intelligence could reduce the time spent on day to day mundane administrative tasks such as scheduling business meetings, and logging and analysing sales data to improve marketing and management strategies.

Advances in technology come thick and fast, and it is important for small businesses to grasp the opportunities and advantages offered by AI, to help them thrive in a competitive marketplace.

AI is becoming integral to marketing

Businesses are using AI systems to improve how they find their customers and then engage with them. Machines can learn by analysing customer data and produce predictions of customer behaviour which will help the company target exactly the right kind of customer for their market.

This helps to shorten their return on investment time as well as allowing them to create more insightful marketing campaigns.

The most obvious use is for AI to provide a competitive edge by raising sales and providing flexible and interactive solutions based on a customer’s requirements and interests. Some of the most popular AI marketing applications are:-

Adext - This is an online ‘supercomputer which provides ‘smart’ digital advertising. It uses intelligent algorithms to detect and predict which type of audience viewing your advertisement are most likely to become customers, and then puts the ad in exactly the right place.

Clever Chatbots - These are a form of AI used by companies as ‘virtual’ customer services. They provide a conversational interface with the customer, which can answer their questions quickly and efficiently, without the need to involve a human being, thereby saving business time and money.

In the world of social media, there are over 300,000 Facebook chatbots, and big businesses such as Sephora Beauty and Pizza Hut use Facebook Messenger to automate online sales. Marketing information can be acquired by the Chatbot requiring the customer to sign up for marketing updates or webinars and even guiding customers to a site where they can finalise their transaction and pay.

And even cleverer Chatbots!

Machines communicate using structured and logical language patterns based on their data input. However, we as human beings rarely speak logically, using slang, wrong spellings and even the wrong words altogether. More advanced Chatbots have natural language processing which enables them to communicate in a more human-like, personalised way, creating a customer service experience similar to text messaging.

Another attraction for businesses is the 24/7, round-the-clock service provided by Chatbots, anytime, anywhere.

Visual search engine – similar to a keyword search engine, this allows you to take a photo of something you want to buy and your phone will show you something identical or similar, which you can purchase straight away.

Intelligent Enterprise Immune systems - this technology uses AI algorithms which mimic the human immune system to combat cyber criminality, by detecting and containing cyber threats including ransomware, malware and a whole raft of other sinister technology. IEIs help businesses feel more secure, knowing their data is as safe as possible.

Government support for innovation in AI

As well as providing research-led tax incentives such as R & D tax relief, the Government has allocated funding for innovative research which businesses can access via Innovate UK. This agency can also help by connecting your business with other researchers and potential collaborators, and even find possible customers for your new idea.

The Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) is a part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Government’s AI and Data ‘Grand Challenge’ to drive innovative uptake of AI technologies in the UK.

The OAI’s mission is to ensure the UK is at the leading edge of the AI and Data revolution, which is transforming the global economy and business models across all industry sectors.

Turing AI Acceleration Fellowships

Another major Government investment of £20 million in AI skills and research has just been announced with the creation of 15 Turing fellowships for leading UK researchers to develop cutting-edge AI technologies.

(The fellowships are named after British mathematical genius and AI pioneer Alan Turing).

This research could bring major improvements to our lives from fighting disease to improving the environment, and the fellowships will foster collaboration between industry and academia, creating opportunities for businesses to form partnerships which will accelerate the impact of these transformative technologies.

Funding for the Turing AI Acceleration fellowships is part of the £46 million investment in the industry announced by the Government in 2018.

Turing AI Research topics include:

  • New neurotechnological devices which measure signals from the brain and enable the wearer to interact with technology without having to move. This could help people who are unable to communicate because of an illness or a serious injury.
  • Improving the performance and capability of voice-based virtual personal assistants similar to Siri and Alexa. Currently, these systems are only able to perform simple tasks and sustain limited conversations.
  • Systems involving the network of neurons in our brains, and the use of photonic devices which can manipulate, detect or create light. They could have a wide range of applications in weather forecasting, analysing wind patterns in offshore energy farms, or processing images at very high speeds for medical diagnostics.  

Companies interested in becoming Turing Project Partners can find more details here :

Turing AI Fellowships | The Alan Turing Institute

News Blog - Article 1 - Post Covid -2

A resurge in R&D could boost the Post-Covid Economy

When we finally get back to some kind of normality following the Covid-19 crisis, it will be vital to find dynamic new solutions to help increase economic prosperity and productivity through innovative products and services. Many businesses recognise the need to innovate to thrive in the post-Covid world, giving them the resilience to grow the workforce and even expand into new markets.

During this year, Coronavirus, and the Government’s necessary public health measures to deal with it, have seriously weakened the economy, reducing production and consumer spending.

The pandemic has also caused a reduction in global economic activity which has had a knock-on effect for UK industry, disrupting international supply chains and reducing demand for exported goods. This year alone, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) believes we will have the largest annual reduction in GDP for 300 years.

The long-term effects on the British economy of the Coronavirus pandemic will not be known for some time, but the OBR has assessed that the impact of Covid-19, not just on people’s jobs and livelihoods, but also on mental and physical wellbeing, would have been much worse without the levels of support for individuals and businesses the Government has put in place.

The Office for Budget Responsibility is projecting an unprecedented level of Government borrowing of just short of £400 billion for 2020/21 and Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his Financial Statement on 25th November 2020, told us that not only was our health emergency not over, but our economic emergency had only just started.

There are undoubtedly major challenges for the economy in the years ahead, but going forward, the Government believes we have a unique opportunity to build on the success of the UK’s contribution to world-leading research and development, which will help to boost economic growth.

Financial support for R&D activity

In his March 2020 budget, the Chancellor promised to increase funding significantly for Government research and development over the next four years as part of its strategy to encourage private and public investment in the research environment, working towards a total investment in R&D of 0.8% of GDP by 2024/25. This unprecedented commitment to R&D represents an increase in public investment of £22billion per year by 2024/25.

This was followed in July by the Government’s visionary UK Research and Development Roadmap, setting out long-term objectives to invest in science and research. Research and development will help to build the foundations of new industries, boosting economic growth for decades into the future, and reaffirming the UK as a science and technology ‘superpower’.

Science and Technology lead the way

Companies involved in medical technology and pharmaceutical research have found themselves at the forefront of Covid-related research in the race to find a vaccine as well as developing personal protection products.

At the same time, R&D work has suffered from profound disruption with researchers having to adjust to working remotely.

Earlier this year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy commissioned a report into the impact of Covid-19 on the activities of research groups. Over 10,000 researchers took part, working in a range of settings including companies, research institutes, charities and UK universities. The report was published in October, and key findings included :

  • The biggest challenge was a lack of access to laboratories and archives, with an almost 100% decrease in research activities that could not be done at home, such as lab experiments or fieldwork. Unsuitable home working conditions were also a problem, with a lack of office and IT equipment and software. Caring responsibilities also interfered with research activity at home.
  • There had been a decrease in business and academic networking and collaboration. This would include clinical work, knowledge exchange activities, and training and professional development.
  • Researchers in all settings had had their research delayed and had lost important data.
  • All researchers, particularly early-career workers, were anxious about future funding and jobs.

Notwithstanding the constraints on R&D work resulting from Covid-19, the vaccine produced by outstanding British scientists at Oxford University working with Astra/Zeneca has made a major contribution to the containment of the disease, with the hope that key workers and vulnerable groups may be able to be vaccinated within weeks.

The Government believes that research and development will help drive an economic and social recovery from the impact of the Coronavirus in the UK and give us a leading technological edge.

The financial support over the next five years underlines a commitment to strengthen research and innovation to make the UK economy healthier and more resilient. The aim is to boost research in science and technology to maximise the benefit of British-led innovations to improve our quality of life. This would include the creation of new industry sectors and job opportunities, and finding environmentally-friendly solutions to the impact of climate change, including the achievement of net-zero carbon emissions.