The Tactile Modality: A Review of Tactile Sensitivity and Human Tactile Interfaces

Report No. ARL-TR-4115
Authors: Kimberly Myles and Mary S. Binseel
Date/Pages: May 2007; 27 pages
Abstract: Even though vision is only one modality we use to interact with our environment, most people identify it to be the most important. Hearing is also viewed as necessary for interpreting environmental stimuli. In contrast, touch, smell, and taste are largely ignored as being essential to the interaction we have with our environment. The brain seldom processes environmental information in sequence among the modalities but concurrently from several or all of the sensory modalities. Because humans have a limited capacity to receive, hold in working memory, and cognitively process information taken from the environment, the use of one sensory modality to convey information within a system can overload that modality. Multimodal systems can help to alleviate overload for any one modality, and such systems have been favorable in showing that the touch or tactile modality can be used as an independent input modality to convey information to the user or as a redundant modality to increase information prominence of the visual and auditory modalities. This review, which reflects work that occurred before mid-2006, discusses the following aspects of tactile modality: specific measures of tactile sensitivity for the human body, capabilities and limitations of tactile modality, and applications of human tactile interfaces. The review also highlights a gap in the tactile literature regarding tactile research for the head and other potential body locations.
Distribution: Approved for public release
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Last Update / Reviewed: May 1, 2007