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INTERview





High-fidelity Force-Feedback Robotics offering Realistic Sense of Touch to Computer Simulation


Dr. Kamran Ghaffari

Founder & CEO


Touché Technologies

www.touche-technologies.com


Contact:

info@touche-technologies.com


Interview conducted by:

Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine


Published – January 13, 2020


CEOCFO: Dr. Ghaffari, what was the vision when you started Touché Technologies and what is the focus today?  

Dr. Ghaffari: The vision was to be the main provider of high-fidelity force-feedback (FF) robots on the market. We believe that the sense of touch will be an important extension to existing simulators, and the simulation market will increasingly adapt FF technology in the coming years.


Since the early 1970s and 1980s, the market has been demanding for better computer graphics and physics engines. Later on, improved audio feedback added more realism to the simulators. In the recent years, the simulation technology has reached a convincing level of realism when it comes to computer graphics and dynamic simulation. A realistic sense of touch, however, is still missing.


We believe that the market demand for force and motion feedback robotics will increasingly grow. Therefore, we started developing our robotic solutions back in 2013. Our robotic products can emulate sense of touch and various haptics and motion feedback with high accuracy. They can be integrated with different simulations and add the extra extension of force and motion feedback to the simulation.


CEOCFO: Would you give us a couple of examples of how that works?  

Dr. Ghaffari: Let’s consider a surgical simulator for training surgeons. In this example, the trainee can use a FF robotic arm to transfer his hand motion to the simulator. At the same time, robotic device can apply forces back to the hand of the user based on his interaction with the simulated virtual environment. For instance, the user can control the motion of the surgical tools that are simulated in the computer. The moment that these virtual tools make contact with any other virtual object in the simulation, the robot will generate forces that accurately match the contact characteristics and geometries of the touching objects. This gives the impression to the trainee that he/she is manipulating a physical object in real world as opposed to a virtual world in a computer simulation.


CEOCFO: Where else would this technology be applicable?

Dr. Ghaffari: This technology has a wide range of applications from military and medical, to various industrial simulations, games, and entertainment. For instance, learning how to drive heavy military vehicles can be dangerous, expensive, and time-consuming. There needs to be a special field with all sorts of preparations to teach soldiers how to drive military vehicles in different situations. Having an accurate vehicle simulator which feels and behaves like the actual vehicle can significantly improve the learning curve. It can also be used for mission practicing where the actual field is out of reach and sometimes behind the enemy lines.


For vehicle simulators, we provide motion actuators that can accurately move the simulator cockpit according to the motion of the simulated vehicle. This way the trainee feels to be in an actual vehicle while driving the simulated vehicle. We also have a force-feedback steering wheel product, TWheel, that generates realistic steering forces which are virtually indistinguishable from those of the actual vehicle. The steering forces can be from engine vibrations, various types of friction, road effects, or other forces that one would experience with the actual vehicle.

  

CEOCFO: In laymen’s terms, how are you able to make this happen? What is the technology behind what you are doing?

Dr. Ghaffari: The principle of operation behind this technology is quite simple. The robot transfers the motion of the user to the computer simulation. The simulation calculates interaction forces acting on the virtual object manipulated by the user. The robot then replicates the calculated forces by the simulation to emulate sense of touch.


The technology behind each step, however, can be quite complicated. For example, to calculate the interaction forces, the simulation needs to take into account the dynamics, geometries, materials, and relative positions of the objects, and then efficiently process all that information in real-time. That is a challenging task for multi-body dynamic systems with large number of objects and complex geometries. On the other hand, the robotic device should be designed and manufactured to perfection so it can accurately measure the motion of the user and generate high resolution forces several thousand times per second.


In order to develop a realistic force-feedback simulation, every step should be done very accurately. There is absolutely no room for imprecision. The tactile sensors in our skin are very sensitive to small variation of forces and can easily detect small errors in the calculated forces.


CEOCFO: Is everyone’s sense of touch or sense of feeling the vibration the same?  

Dr. Ghaffari: It is hard to say if every person would perceive forces similarly. That’s probably quite subjective. However, what matters is that everyone evaluates the forces emulated by our robots based on their own past experiences in real-life. So all we need to do is to generate forces that closely match the actual forces that the user would experience in real-life. That way, everyone perceives the force-feedback effects realistic regardless of their subjective interpretation of the experience.


CEOCFO: What is the market like? Are many companies working in the same arena?  

Dr. Ghaffari: There are a growing number of companies working in the field of force-feedback robotics and haptics. Each company has its own target market and its own understanding of the market and strategy. Our target market is high-fidelity force-feedback simulation. We believe that there is a need in the market for high quality robots that are able to generate truly realistic force and motion effects. The other need is a high-quality customer service. Many of our potential clients are not experts in robotics and they can benefit from a strong customer support to help them achieve optimum results.


CEOCFO: How do you reach out? Do people understand the difference in quality?  

Dr. Ghaffari: Sense of touch is a personal experience and the best way to show the difference in quality is through demos. That is why we regularly participate in different exhibitions to let the visitors try our products and see the difference in quality. Another way to reach out is to run advertisements on relevant platforms. We also benefit from client referrals through word of mouth. We do our best to keep our clients happy with our work and that increases the likelihood that they refer us to another partner of theirs. This is how we have been reaching out so far.     


CEOCFO: How is business?  

Dr. Ghaffari: It is going exactly as planned! I am quite pleased with that fact.  


CEOCFO: How do you stand out at a conference with so many companies and so many ideas competing for attention?

Dr. Ghaffari: In an exhibition, we try to stand out mainly by focusing on the quality of our hardware and customer service. We also review our innovative solutions to our visitors; solutions that really matter to some clients.


In general, we constantly try to find ways to improve our robotic devices and their software interfaces, so that the clients can easily integrate them with their products and achieve optimum results. So, the technical specifications of our devices generally stand out compared to other solutions.


CEOCFO: Would you give us an example of the customer service? How is it over and above what people normally receive?  

Dr. Ghaffari: We understand that integrating an off-the-shelf robot with an existing product can have steep learning curve and can be difficult and costly for our clients. On the other hand, different clients have different needs. Referring them to a detailed set of documentations that is supposed to work for everybody is ineffective at best. That is where our customer service distinguishes itself. We offer our clients to help them integrate our devices with their simulation. We teach them how to do it quickly and effortlessly.


At the same time, we are very focused on quality. We care if the client is truly exploiting the performance of our devices. We are not satisfied with any force-feedback effect that is less than perfect. This is what distinguishes us. We are not just there to make some products that sell. We want to make sure that the quality that we are committing ourselves to deliver, is really delivered to our clients. We believe that in the long run this strategy pays off.


CEOCFO: Would a client typically buy several of your products or might there just be one or two potentially for each client? How does it work with the range of what you offer?   

Dr. Ghaffari: That really depends. For example, new clients usually do not commit themselves to a high-volume purchase right away. They usually start with buying a few devices to evaluate the results. Once they see the performance of our devices and how it can improvement the quality of their simulation, they often become quite excited. They understand that a better simulation experience gives them more competitive edge in the market and can increase their sales. Higher number purchases normally start after that point.


CEOCFO: Are you seeking funding, investment or partnerships as you grow and move forward?   

Dr. Ghaffari: Yes, we do. So far, the company has been self-funded. Originally, we wanted to wait until we have a record of growing sales, proven products and market, and a growing number of happy clients before involving other parties. At this stage, we would like to bring more capital to be able to expedite our plans and growth. I am positive that interesting funding opportunities will arise in the coming year.


CEOCFO: What is your geographic reach today?

Dr. Ghaffari: The type of applications that would benefit from our devices are mostly developed in North America and Western Europe. However, there are also potential clients in South America and sometimes in Africa or East Asia that we try to reach out. For now, most of the demand has been within North America and Europe.   


CEOCFO: Are there some industries that are not paying as much attention as they should? Where do you see the most attention and where do you see the areas that are not recognizing Touché Technologies yet?

Dr. Ghaffari: That is a good question. Not every segment of the market is at the same stage when it comes to force-feedback robotics. There are industries that have been interested in this technology since more than a decade ago. The military and medical industries, for example, have been seeking high-fidelity force-feedback solutions for various training simulators. Gaming industry has been another large market for force-feedback solutions but less performance requirements. Various force-feedback joysticks and game controllers have been on the market for many years.


The industries that have not been paying enough attention to force-feedback technology include those related to day-to-day consumer products. Almost none of the household devices today use active force-feedback technology despite its tremendous potentials.


There are also other growing markets that can create new applications for force-feedback technology. For example, the artificial intelligence industry is still at its infancy, but as it becomes more mature, it can create new demands for force-feedback devices. With force-feedback robotics, the AI systems not only can think and make smart decisions but will also be able to reach out and interact with objects and people around. I think this kind of applications will start to emerge within the next five years driving new markets for force-feedback robotics.


CEOCFO: On all levels, why pay attention to Touché Technologies? What sets the company apart?  

Dr. Ghaffari: Touché Technologies is committed to deliver the highest quality products and services in the force-feedback industry. Every product and service that we offer is designed to improve our clients’ products and reduce their overall development costs. We believe this is what our target the market needs and this is what our business strategy should address.


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“Touché Technologies is committed to deliver the highest quality products and services in the force-feedback industry. Every product and service that we offer is designed to improve our clients’ products and reduce their overall development costs.”- Dr. Kamran Ghaffari

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