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Release: Nov. 6, 2002

UI professor receives $333,225 NSF grant to continue simulation research

Geb Thomas, University of Iowa assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering in the University of Iowa College of Engineering and researcher at the Center for Computer-Aided Design, has been awarded $330,225 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for continued simulation research. Project colleagues include Thomas, who serves as principle investigator, and co-principal investigators Clark Stanford, professor in the UI College of Dentistry, and Lynn Johnson of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.

The research project, titled "Using Force Feedback Devices to Train and Assess Recognition of Force Signals as a Component of Professional Skill," will develop and evaluate a haptic, or touch sensitive, simulator suitable for training dental students. The simulator uses a computer to control a pen-shaped handle, which operates like a three-dimensional computer mouse by moving a cursor through a 3-D virtual reality field. When the computer graphics show that the cursor controlled by the handle is running into the computer model of the tooth, the handle resists any further motion in that direction, making the tooth feel solid, says Thomas. Different control strategies can make the tooth feel slippery, sticky, soft or hard.

Thomas says the primary design challenge involves the simulator's ability to train dentists to elicit and recognize force signals, or the sensations in a dentist's fingertips, that provide information about whether or not the patient has a cavity, for example. The simulator will be developed around the criterion of force signal fidelity and, ultimately, the project will compare the performance of dentists trained with the simulator against those trained using traditional methods. The project will make an important contribution to the field of haptic simulation by suggesting a method to identify force signals and by demonstrating a benefit to simulator training.

Thomas' special fields of knowledge and present research interests include human/computer interface, robotics, virtual reality, and human factors. Thomas joined the UI College of Engineering in 1997 after earning his doctorate in industrial engineering at Penn State University in 1996.