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Regular version of the site

Article

Measuring relative vibrotactile spatial acuity: effects of tactor type, anchor points and tactile anisotropy

Experimental brain research. 2018. Vol. 236. P. 3405-3416.
Kristjansson A., Hoffmann R., Unnthorsson R., Jóhannesson Ó. I., Valgeirsdóttir V. V.

Vibrotactile displays can compensate for the loss of sensory function of people with permanent or temporary deficiencies in vision, hearing, or balance, and can augment the immersive experience in virtual environments for entertainment, or professional training. This wide range of potential applications highlights the need for research on the basic psychophysics of mechanisms underlying human vibrotactile perception. One key consideration when designing tactile displays is determining the minimal possible spacing between tactile motors (tactors), by empirically assessing the maximal throughput of the skin, or, in other words, vibrotactile spatial acuity. Notably, such estimates may vary by tactor type. We assessed vibrotactile spatial acuity in the lower thoracic region for three different tactor types, each mounted in a 4×4 array with center-to-center inter-tactor distances of 25 mm, 20 mm, and 10 mm. Seventeen participants performed a relative three-alternative forcedchoice point localization task with successive tactor activation for both vertical and horizontal stimulus presentation. The results demonstrate that specific tactor characteristics (frequency, acceleration, contact area) significantly affect spatial acuity measurements, highlighting that the results of spatial acuity measurements may only apply to the specific tactors tested. Furthermore, our results reveal an anisotropy in vibrotactile perception, with higher spatial acuity for horizontal than for vertical stimulus presentation. The findings allow better understanding of vibrotactile spatial acuity and can be used for formulating guidelines for the design of tactile displays, such as regarding inter-tactor spacing, choice of tactor type, and direction of stimulus presentation.