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emerging technologies


A volumetric haptic display composed of a group of air balloons controlled by air cylinders. Each air cylinder is equipped with a pressure sensor that detects force applied by the user. Deformation is directly related to the hardness of the virtual clay.

Art and Science

Digital tools for 2D paint are mature technologies. Tools for 3D shape manipulation, on the other hand, are at a preliminary stage of development. The Volflex is a new haptic device that uses clay, a very popular medium for shape design, as the physical interface to a computer-controlled surface.


1. To provide a volumetric interface device that enables users to feel virtual objects using the whole palm.

2. To display visual images on the surface of the device.


In this new haptic interface, a group of computer-controlled air balloons arranged in a body-centered cubic lattice provides the interaction surface. A tube is connected to each balloon, and the tubes are connected to each other by springs. The volume of each balloon is controlled by an air cylinder. This mechanical flexibility enables the interaction surface to assume arbitrary shapes.

Each air cylinder is equipped with a pressure sensor that detects force applied by the user. In reaction to the pressure data, the device is programmed to perform like clay. A projector set above the balloons displays images on the surface of the device, not on the user's hand. A mechanical rotary shutter separates the projector and camera. The camera captures the user's hand, which is eliminated from the projected image.


Virtual clay is one of the ultimate goals of 3D interactive graphics. The Volflex uses a lattice of air balloons to deliver an effective interface device for manipulation of virtual clay. It is a new digital tool for making 3D shapes, and it could lead to revolutionary changes in industrial design methodologies. Designers use their palms or the joints of their fingers to deform a clay model when carrying out rough design tasks. The Volflex simulates this type of natural manipulation.

The Volflex is also an interactive artwork. Physical properties of the virtual object can be designed by programming the balloon controllers. The projected image can be also designed. This combination of haptic and visual display provides a new platform for interactive sculpture.


Hiroo Iwata
University of Tsukuba, ATR
iwata (at)


Naoto Ono
Hiroaki Yano
University of Tsukuba