This active study was sponsored by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) . The grant number is 1 R01 NS048903-01. The project period is 7/1/2004—6/30/2010. The research is being conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the principal investigator is Kurt Kaczmarek.
Electrical stimulation of touch (electrotactile or electrocutaneous stimulation) has shown promise for a wide variety of applications in which information is presented tactually to human users. These include sensory prostheses for persons with serious visual and auditory impairments, as well as for those who have lost tactile sensation on some cutaneous loci due to traumatic nerve injury or disease, and also for advanced robotic surgical techniques and other applications.
Over the last thirty years, many such concepts have been implemented and tested. However, these efforts have been largely application-specific and in general hampered by a lack of both theoretical framework and fundamental research aimed at understanding the basic perceptual characteristics of the electrotactile response.
The proposed discovery-driven research aims to study the intensive and qualitative psychophysics of this unique method of information display, and specifically to: (1) Characterize the dynamic range of the electrotactile percept as a function of physical stimulus parameters, particularly those (such as cutaneous locus and hydration) that historically have made it difficult to control the electrotactile percept, and (2) Characterize the qualitative or subjective nature of the electrotactile percept (“tactile color”) as a function of waveform timing.
These results will enable our future goal of developing specific stimulus control schemes and stimulus parameters that maximize the dynamic range and controllability of the electrotactile percept. The long-term result will be superior tactile communication means for medical, industrial, and consumer applications. A secondary result will be a preliminary but quantitative description of the electrotactile stimulus–percept space; this will aid future research aiming to uncover the physiological mechanisms underlying electrical stimulation of touch.