Question Sheet: Getting in Touch with Touch


Before reading:

  1. Why is the sense of touch important? What would be harder or impossible for

    you to do if you didn’t have a sense of touch?

  2. Imagine that you have a friend who has no sense of touch. How would you

    describe to your friend what it’s like to touch something?

During reading:

  1. What makes touch “incredibly complicated”?
  2. If scientists figure out a great way to simulate touch, how could it advance

    medicine and surgery?

  3. Describe the da Vinci system that Okamura and her colleagues are using.
  4. How can haptics researchers simulate the sensation of using scissors to cut

    through an object?

  5. Why is a computer’s limited ability to process data a problem?

After reading:

  1. Why would astronomers or astronauts want to be able to feel as if they are

    touching objects in space or on other planets?

  2. Design an experiment that would demonstrate how difficult it is to perform a

    task without a sense of touch. How would the experiment work?


  1. Interview someone who has played Nintendo Wii. Ask him or her how having a

    sense of touch changes the experience of playing a video game. Write down the

    answers in a list.

  2. What are some dangers of a doctor actually putting their hand or fingers

    inside of a person during surgery?


  1. You can use many different words to describe how something feels. Come up

    with a list of 10 or more words that people use to describe the sensations of


  2. Blind people have no sense of sight. Deaf people have no sense of hearing.

    Which of the following senses—sight, hearing, or touch—would it be most

    difficult to live without, and why?


Pretend you are trying to train your pet robot, Hal, to pick up a glass of milk without breaking it. Hal needs to grip the glass with a pressure of at least 21 pounds per square inch (psi), or he will drop it when he tries to pick it up. But if he grips the glass with more

than 35 psi, the glass will shatter.

Hal understands only two commands:

You can tell him to double the current pressure of his grip, and you can tell him to reduce the current pressure of his grip by 5 psi. If his grip pressure is currently 5 psi, which sequence of commands will increase his grip pressure to between 21 and 35 psi? What will his grip pressure be when he successfully picks up the glass?