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The Importance of Temperature Information in Virtual Training Environments

George Van Doorn, Mark Symmons and Barry Richardson

SimTecT 2009 Simulation Conference: Simulation - Concepts, Capability and Technology (SimTecT 2009)
Adelaide Convention Centre, Adelaide, Australia, 15 - 18 June, 2009


Thermal input is an important, but often unacknowledged, source of information in our interactions with the environment. Besides the extremes that alert us to discomfort and danger, even a small change in temperature adds to the richness of the haptic experience. Temperature assists us in establishing that we have made contact with a surface and it helps to determine what that surface might be. It is not yet clear how important or redundant that temperature information is, a question of particular importance to builders of virtual reality interfaces and environments. Indeed, it is possible that as an under-exploited channel, temperature could be used to code for other information not easily conveyed with current technologies. For example, temperature conveyed by Peltier tiles may intuitively code for hardness - and therefore material type - in simulations or teleremote applications. Temperature may also enhance the learning experience by increasing presence or immersion.

The findings from several experiments are brought together to discuss the efficacy of adding temperature feedback to simulation applications. In the first, Peltier tiles are added to an exoskeleton device designed to provide kinaesthetic feedback when interacting in a virtual environment. The effects are explored in terms of useability and the potential to increase presence or realism of virtual objects. We also describe an experiment in which movement was either active or passive-guided. In the active condition the degree of "coldness" felt at the fingertip was reported as less intense than when movement was passive. It appears that intentionality of movement played some role in the attenuation of the stimulus. Other work suggests that the perception of temperature is not influenced by a simultaneously present colour. For example, perceiving cold is not enhanced when it is processed in conjunction with a blue colour. This article will review the relevant literature and, in conjunction with the data we have collected, establish whether introducing temperature to virtual training environments is advisable.

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