Capturing Tactile Properties of Real Surfaces for Haptic Reproduction

How can real world information inform fabrication processes?

Whenever we design objects for 3D-printing, it is very difficult to predict the tactile feeling of the resulting object. Making things feel smooth, rough or even comfortable, is extremely challenging. However, we have copious amounts of experience with objects in the real world and we can identify the tactile qualities of different objects around us.

In this work, we look towards appropriating physical properties from real world surfaces. We do this to investigate how we can use our knowledge of real world physical information to guide the tactile properties of fabricated objects. Here, we built a setup to capture the micro-geometry information from a set of textile samples. Using this information, we then 3D-printed surface samples and compared to their originals in a user study.

From our results, we see that replicating information from real world objects benefits fabrication processes to provide a wide gamut of tactile perception. For example, using our method a designer could record information in the world around them and use that information to alter the tactile perception of digital designs for 3D-printing. This approach makes it easier to create objects with different feelings to them.


Tactile feedback of an object's surface enables us to discern its material properties and affordances. This understanding is used in digital fabrication processes by creating objects with high-resolution surface variations to influence a user’s tactile perception. As the design of such surface haptics commonly relies on knowledge from real-life experiences, it is unclear how to adapt this information for digital design methods. In this work, we investigate replicating the haptics of real materials. Using an existing process for capturing an object’s microgeometry, we digitize and reproduce the stable surface information of a set of 15 fabric samples. In a psychophysical experiment, we evaluate the tactile qualities of our set of original samples and their replicas. From our results, we see that direct reproduction of surface variations is able to influence different psychophysical dimensions of the tactile perception of surface textures. While the fabrication process did not preserve all properties, our approach underlines that replication of surface microgeometries benefits fabrication methods in terms of haptic perception by covering a large range of tactile variations. Moreover, by changing the surface structure of a single fabricated material, its material perception can be influenced. We conclude by proposing strategies for capturing and reproducing digitized textures to better resemble the perceived haptics of the originals.

Capturing Tactile Properties of Real Surfaces for Haptic Reproduction
Donald Degraen, Michal Piovarči, Bernd Bickel, Antonio Krüger

Proceedings of the 34th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST '21)
PDF: Pre-print

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Donald Degraen