Cross-Cutting Challenges

New this year at the 2018 Haptics Symposium is a submission category called Cross-Cutting Challenges. The goal of this set of sessions is to come together to focus on interdisciplinary challenges (“themes”) calling for united solutions from the haptics community. Drawn from an open solicitation, two themes have been selected.

The Concept

Structure: AM and PM sessions, each focused on a single theme

  • Keynote talks (4 to 5 per session, presented sequentially)
  • Parallel interactive discussions (about 10 in parallel per session) where presenters stand with a poster and/or a laptop and spark new ideas, projects, and teams through personal conversation
  • Ample unstructured discussion time to follow up and expand

Scope: So that participants may develop a holistic understanding of the theme topic, the set of presentations is expected to cover:

  • Recent prior work: synthesize developments in the theme area over a period of years, multiple research teams, and multiple technical disciplines
  • Current work: relate ongoing work to the arc of research in the theme area
  • Future ideas: envision forward-looking, emerging directions requiring interdisciplinary teams 


  • Principal Investigators propose themes, organize sessions with the aid of the Cross-Cutting Challenges Chairs, deliver keynote presentations, host interactive discussions, and/or attend
  • Students and Postdocs attend sessions and actively participate!

Points of contact

Manuel Cruz and Gregory Gerling (

CCC Themes Selected

Cross-Cutting Challenge Theme 1

Expanding sensory interactions: The path to intelligent clothes and objects able to change the way we communicate with the world

Organizers: Domenico Prattichizzo (IIT, Italy), Claudio Pacchierotti (CNRS, France), Leonardo Meli (UNISI, Italy)

Description: Research on haptic interfaces has historically developed around grounded kinesthetic devices. The pursuit of more wearable technologies led next to the development of exoskeletons. Although exoskeletons can be considered wearable, they are often quite heavy and cumbersome. More recent research has sought to extend the definition of a “wearable device” beyond something merely suitable to be worn. A wearable haptic device should also be small, easy to carry, comfortable, and it should not impair the motion of the wearer. But wearable haptics is not only applying haptic stimuli in a seamless way. Recent advancements in textile engineering are showing remarkable results in innovative smart clothes, which embed lightweight and thin sensors, either haptic or inertial. For example, Levi’s and Google developed a haptic jacket that enables the user to control their smartphone by touching an instrumented sleeve. 

We embrace the idea of service technology that Parviz, Lee, and Thrun shared while presenting Google Glass: “We think technology should work for you — to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t.” Similarly, the concept of extreme unobtrusiveness is at the core of wearable haptics.

To achieve such an ambitious goal, we need to pursue a deeper understanding of our sense of touch, as well as the discovery of innovative technological solutions at its interface. The need for small and lightweight – but effective – technology requires remarkable competences in various fields:

  • biologists, physiologists, neuroscientists to understand sensory transduction, muscle, and neural afferents and how our brain interprets their transmitted information;
  • designers, artists, interaction experts to explore new ways and approaches to human-device interaction, in terms of visual appearance, fashion, comfort, and intuitiveness;
  • mechanical, electrical, and material engineers to design and develop suitable mechanisms, textiles, and machines able to elicit and/or sense effective and informative touch sensation;
  • computer scientists to design proper haptic rendering and sensing algorithms;
  • psychophysics experts to evaluate the effectiveness of our haptic systems.

Recently, Elon Musk told an audience at the Dubai World Government Summit that “over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.” In an age when AI and autonomy are becoming widespread, there is a growing need to empower human interactions through new intelligent devices. Nowadays, we have small wearable devices able to apply compelling haptic sensations as well as comfortable instrumented garments able to sense inputs coming from the human wearer (contact forces and motion). In the future, we foresee an advancement of these technologies toward more wearable and seamless solutions, until their complete blend and merge in what we call “wearable sensorimotor interfaces”. These novel interfaces will be able to sense user input and biometric information, and to apply haptic and other stimuli in an extremely seamless and comfortable way. This will be the first step toward a new field of research that can dramatically enlarge the potentiality and applicability of haptics to enhance human capabilities, health, and human interaction with digital information. Future applications may be in mixed and augmented reality, human sensory augmentation (e.g., extra limbs), assistance to elderly and disabled people, and natural control of intelligent devices (e.g., Internet of Things, smartphones).

Cross-Cutting Challenge Theme 2

Haptic dimensions of surfaces

Organizers: Jeremy Fishel (SynTouch, USA) and Ed Colgate (Northwestern University & Tanvas, USA)

Description: The tactual properties of our surroundings do not chatter at us like their colors; they remain mute until we make them speak” – David Katz, The World of Touch (1925). 

While much has been learned about the perceptually relevant dimensions of hearing and vision, an equally comprehensive understanding of touch is still in its infancy. This challenge seeks to bring together perspectives of experts and stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds to converge on the “dimensions” that contribute to the haptic perception of surfaces. Understanding these dimensions may ultimately help define the requirements of next-generation devices that can effectively record and play back touch for all or a specific subset of surfaces, enabling new applications in e-commerce, telerobotics and AR/VR, so that users can ultimately feel the virtual, remote or pre-recorded surfaces they’re touching.

Early works into the perception of touch focused on psychophysics and the roles of exploratory movements. These foundational studies were reinforced further by studies into mechanotransduction mechanisms and responses of sensory afferents that inform our tactile and kinesthetic perception. While informative, the complex and interactive role that movement plays in haptic perception obfuscates a clean first principles understanding based on sensory responses alone. As a result, obtaining the equivalent to the RGB dimensionality of color has been somewhat elusive for the sense of touch. Without such a general understanding, multiple industries interested in defining tactile perception for product development and quality control purposes have attempted to develop their own application-specific dimensionality to meet their needs, albeit without much success.

In recent years, advances have been made in tactile sensors that can record surface properties, and in tactile displays to play back those recordings as well as “designed” textures. This pending ability to link recording and playback of touch brings the dimensionality question back into the spotlight. How should the tactile dimensions of surfaces be defined? A wide range of perspectives corresponding to a wide range of backgrounds has evolved over time, including those of:

  • psychophysics and the relationship between physical characteristics and perceptual differences;
  • neuroscience, neural coding and processing of tactile input;
  • sensory sciences and experts who provide subjective measurements of how products feel;
  • tactile sensors and signal processing algorithms to characterize and discriminate objects by touch;
  • haptic displays and basis functions to create different haptic effects.

In this cross-cutting challenge, we seek to reach out to experts in disparate fields to bring together knowledge toward the goal of elucidating the perceptually relevant dimensions of tactile surfaces, while helping to define the requirements and performance characteristics of technology seeking to record and play back touch. We seek to identify a path forward on how to find those dimensions, how to create the necessary technology, how to design benchmark problems and standardize scientific data, and how all this can be made available to designers, among other discussions that the community deems relevant.

Keynote and Interactive Discussion Submission Instructions (Due: December 22, 2017)

From now through December 22nd, individual keynote and interactive discussion proposals are being accepted in each of the two chosen theme areas. One of the theme organizers will automatically be a keynote speaker for each theme, unless the proposing team chooses otherwise for some reason. 

Investigators apply to deliver keynote talks (4 to 5 per theme session) and interactive discussions (about 10 per theme session). Those submitting must be a faculty member and/or independent researcher, i.e., holding a Ph.D. degree or equivalent. Note that while theme organizers may want to encourage particular individuals to submit, the selection of individuals within a theme will ultimately be based on finding a representative and coherent cohort of presenters that together create a powerful narrative and inspiring call to action.

Keynote talks

Each keynote talk should synthesize research performed by the presenter (perhaps 3 journal articles and 2 conference papers published over the past few years), and it should be framed in light of the on-going grand challenge as well as the work of others in the field. Specifically, talks should cover the following three components oriented around the cross-cutting challenge theme: 1) related prior work of this investigator done in the last 4-5 years, 2) present work that is in the process of being published in conferences and journals, and 3) forward-looking, emerging directions that the presenter sees as opportunities within this sub-domain. Adequate time should be devoted to each. Each talk will be sequenced appropriately by the organizers and Cross-Cutting Challenges Chairs, and the chosen presenters are expected to coordinate somewhat to craft a coherent message. Speakers should not assume a lay audience, but should dive into the details in presenting work done in their lab.

Interactive discussions

These contributions center around a poster and/or videos and may be led by an independent researcher with support from one or more other researchers from their team. Interactive discussions should cover some of the same type of content as a keynote talk. Proposers should aim to talk a large number of conference participants, so that personal and one-on-one discussions, idea generation, and future team formation might be sparked during this session.

Selection Committee

The selection committee for Keynote Talks and Interactive Discussions consists of three academic members, the Cross-Cutting Challenges Chairs, one conference chair, and that theme’s organizers. The three academic members will be chosen by the Cross-Cutting Challenges Chairs to represent haptic science, applications, and technology.

Submission Materials

Specify (as a single PDF document) the relevant theme, and then give a title, a description that is up to 500 words, and a list of recent publications that will be discussed in the presentation.

Email your submission to Each submission will be acknowledged by a confirmation email; please write to us again if you do not receive this response within three business days.