The uncanny valley of haptics

Science Robotics | , Vol 3

Cover Article of the April Issue

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During virtual experiences, enhanced haptic feedback incongruent with other sensory cues can reduce subjective realism.

The Uncanny Valley of Haptics

The concept of an “uncanny valley”—whereby robots or avatars that exhibit more and more humanlike appearance and behavior can (perhaps counter-intuitively) lead to sharp reduction in the subjective quality of people’s experience, or even outright revulsion—has proven a critical concept for the advancement of humanoid robotics and human-robot interaction. This article hypothesizes that a similar uncanny valley of haptics may arise for human perception of haptic feedback (as produced during teleoperation tasks in a virtual environment, for example). To probe this hypothesis, we use Virtual Reality (VR) as a perceptual testbed to explore human response to haptic stimulations of (objectively measured) increasing fidelity. Our results demonstrate that if haptic and visual cues are inconsistent, rising haptic fidelity actually leads to a less realistic and less immersive subjective experience; but bringing these cues back into congruence can avert such effects. Collectively, these results establish the existence of an Uncanny Valley of Haptics that can yield insight into how to most effectively render haptic effects for tele-manipulation or other human-robot interaction tasks.