Smart textiles that teach: Fabric-based haptic device improves the rate of motor learning

Robotic teaching aids have been recently employed in the domains of rehabilitation and teleoperation. Motor training through haptic feedback is very effective in this task because it can be applied directly to the part of the body where corrective action is needed.

Ramachandran, V. et al., arXiv:2106.06332

A recent paper on arXiv.org proposes a novel haptic interface. It compels users to rely on the feedback to both identify and correct their errors, which helps them learn faster.

It consists of a soft, fabric-based programmable elbow sleeve and clutches that can rapidly restrict the joint movements of a wearer. It makes users aware of their errors and prevents them from growing. During experiments, the sleeve was used as a teaching aid for motor activities in drone teleoperation tasks. It was shown that the interface increases the training success to learn, retain, and transfer motor skills.

People learn motor activities best when they are conscious of their errors and make a concerted effort to correct them. While haptic interfaces can facilitate motor training, existing interfaces are often bulky and do not always ensure post-training skill retention. Here, we describe a programmable haptic sleeve composed of textile-based electroadhesive clutches for skill acquisition and retention. We show its functionality in a motor learning study where users control a drone’s movement using elbow joint rotation. Haptic feedback is used to restrain elbow motion and make users aware of their errors. This helps users consciously learn to avoid errors from occurring. While all subjects exhibited similar performance during the baseline phase of motor learning, those subjects who received haptic feedback from the haptic sleeve committed 23.5% fewer errors than subjects in the control group during the evaluation phase. The results show that the sleeve helps users retain and transfer motor skills better than visual feedback alone. This work shows the potential for fabric-based haptic interfaces as a training aid for motor tasks in the fields of rehabilitation and teleoperation.

Research paper: Ramachandran, V., Schilling, F., Wu, A., and Floreano, D., “Smart textiles that teach: Fabric-based haptic device improves the rate of motor learning”, 2021. Link: https://arxiv.org/abs/2106.06332

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